Wednesday, August 6

This is me, not giving a f*^#

I would say "please excuse my language," but a) that would lessen the message here and b) if you know me, you know that I swear. 

The other night, I was talking to a friend about a workshop I'm considering doing down the road where the material is considered controversial to a small segment of the local community. This is nothing romance related or even writing related--but the conversation about it is relevant to my life as a writer and I realized that my reactions to my friend's suggestion were the direct result of having my work published and therefore put before public scrutiny.

In other words, I've learned how not to give a fuck. It's not always easy. I'm insecure and I don't like upsetting people, and I truly loathe conflict. But I've learned that as much as I might wish otherwise, it simply isn't possible not to piss people off. That might be doubly true in the M/M community.

The conversation with my friend went something along these lines (this is only paraphrasing):

Me: X Group will probably be pissed off by the workshop I want to teach. [They have very specific ideas about certain things and I don't share their opinions.]
Her: Okay. Well. How do you intend to mitigate that?
Me: I don't.
Her:  ??
Me: I can't control other people's opinions. 
Her: Well. That's not completely true. You can change what you're going to teach and how you're going to teach it. You don't want to stir up a hornet's next.
Me: No of course not. I'm not planning anything intentionally inflammatory, but I've seen what these guys have to say. I know that some of them aren't going to like the way I'm doing this because we don't share the same philosophy. But that's not my problem. It's theirs.  
Her: You can talk to them and ask what you can change to make them less unhappy with your workshop.
Me: Um. No. 

The actual conversation lasted at a somewhat painful forty minutes. My friend honestly believes that it is not only possible but advisable for me to change the way a group I don't belong to (and don't want to belong to because of that whole "we don't share the same philosophies" thing) thinks about me. All I have to do is change the presentation of my material to something they find acceptable (or at least a majority of them would find acceptable).  Me? I'm mystified someone (even a good friend) would care so much what someone total strangers think about me. 

Don't get me wrong, of course I want to be liked and respected, but at forty five, I've finally started to figure out that you can't please all of the people all of the time. At best, you can please some of the people some of the time--and that means that you're going to piss off some of the people some of the time, too. 

And this is almost an exact echo of conversations I've had with other writers. When a  reader leaves a negative review or dings an author for something, we tend to get very sensitive to that subject. We ask ourselves and our colleagues "should I do this again?" or we say "My character wants to do THIS, but I know how much readers hate that. What do I do?"

To quote my friend Grace Duncan, the answer is this: Write the story that needs to be written. That may mean pissing off readers who don't like threesomes or cheating spouses. That may mean pissing off readers who don't like angst or too much sex. That may mean pissing off readers who want more sex. That may mean pissing off readers who don't like BDSM or vampires or shifters (but buy your book about BDSM vampires having alternately too much and too little sex with their shifter lovers anyway because no matter what we write, somebody is going to be pissed off about it.)

As storytellers, we have a responsibility to tell our characters' stories. 

And yes, it's easier said than done.

All creative types are sensitive. We want people to love what we produce. 

That's why we're encouraged to grow thick skins because someone, somewhere is going to hate what we've done. We have to learn to shake it off and keep working.

And that's what happened to me the other night with my friend. Of course I don't enjoy pissing people off and I (almost never) do it intentionally, but I realize it's inevitable. 

If people from X Group don't like my workshop, guess what? They don't have to show up for it. Their opinions are simply not my problem (for the record: I'm not saying their philosophy is wrong, I'm simply presenting my own take on a particular subject.)  

I honestly hadn't realized until that moment how much of a fuck I didn't give about what people think of me anymore. And it was very liberating.

Of course as an author, I don't want to intentionally piss off my readers (I love my readers!) Beyond that, when you buy my books, you pay my bills. But I know I can't make every reader happy. I have to write the stories that I need to write. Fortunately, there are enough super-awesome authors out there that every reader can find one or two or ten that they can fall in love with. Likewise, there are enough super-awesome readers out there that one or two or ten can fall in love with me. 

I do believe that as authors, we have a responsibility to be sensitive to certain topics. If you have a story that contains or even mentions acts of abuse, rape (on or off page), self-injury, threesomes, or cheating, or other well-known triggers, it is only fair and appropriate to warn people up front. At that point, the reader can decide for themselves whether or not a book is for them. 

What isn't fair is expect us to walk around on eggshells worrying about who we're going to piss off or worse, expecting us to avoid subjects because they are triggers. (Or change the way I want to teach a workshop--a way that works for me--to avoid pissing off people who seem an awful lot like that loud minority of M/M authors and readers who don't want women writing or even reading M/M.)

I've learned a very important lesson these last few years: (and yes, it is completely at odds with what my friend was trying to tell me the other night):  no matter how hard you try, you cannot control what other people think or how they're going to react. All you can do is live your own life to the fullest, do the things that make you happy, and let others do the same. 

My friend has every right to put her energy into mitigating the opinions of the people around her if that makes her happy. 

I choose to put my energy into writing what I love, teaching what I love, and doing what I love. I choose to not care what others think of me (or at least to continue to growing a nice thick skin and not worry so much about ruffling a few feathers as I dance through the remainder of this life).

I choose not to conform to other people's ideas and opinions but rather to form and value my own. I choose to express myself.

Does this make me selfish? Probably. But like I said, I'm forty five years old. I have a finite amount of time left on this planet. I don't want to spend it worrying about offending other people to the point where I feel the need to change how I teach or what I write. 

I do feel I owe it to my readers, my colleagues, and my publisher to comport myself in a professional manner. I owe it to my teachers to behave in a way that will reflect well on them. I owe it to my friends to be supportive and to be there when they need me.

What I do not owe anyone is to change myself for their comfort.

I don't owe the members of X Group to go out of my way not to offend their sensibilities.

I owe them civility; I owe them courtesy. I certainly owe them the right to their opinion. But I am under no obligation to be swayed by that opinion; I am under no obligation to attempt to change anyone's opinion of me.

Truthfully, I think that would be a disservice to them as well as to myself.  




7 comments:

saratestarossa said...

I totally get what you're saying. I particularly appreciated this part: "I do believe that as authors, we have a responsibility to be sensitive to certain topics. If you have a story that contains or even mentions acts of abuse, rape (on or off page), self-injury, threesomes, or cheating, or other well-known triggers, it is only fair and appropriate to warn people up front. At that point, the reader can decide for themselves whether or not a book is for them.

What isn't fair is expect us to walk around on eggshells worrying about who we're going to piss off or worse, expecting us to avoid subjects because they are triggers."

Well said!

Anonymous said...

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Very well said. My first book received lots of very positive praise; but one of the first reader-reviews posted on Amazon was very negative. I took that to heart for quite a while. It hurt me that the reader didn't understand what I was trying to convey. Now, I go back and re-read that same review and realize that, like you, I simply don't give a fuck. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and not everyone is going to like everything I do. One of my favorite expressions these days is "the nice thing about being a grown-up is we're not obligated to get everyone a Valentine."

Tali Spencer said...

Great post. For many years I tried very hard to conform to what people thought of me. I was made to feel less if I didn't fit in and I wanted desperately to belong. Eventually I realized I was cutting off my own air, strangling myself, hoping other people would find me acceptable. And for what? These days I still feel disappointed if people laugh at me or find me wanting, or dislike my work, but I get past that quickly. Since I've started being myself I've found more love and happiness than I ever found trying to say and do the "right" things to fit what other people think.

When we censor ourselves or our work to make other people think we are something we're not, we are buying into a subtle form of control that says "they" are right. If we don't stand up for ourselves, we give other people reason to think they're in the right to silence us.

H.B. Pattskyn said...

""the nice thing about being a grown-up is we're not obligated to get everyone a Valentine.""

I love it! And yes, that is *so* true.

:)

H.B. Pattskyn said...

Fabulously said, Tali!

H.B. Pattskyn said...

Thank you, Sara!!

I do truly believe in taking responsibility for my work but there has to come a point where other people take responsibility to just not read, watch, attend things they find difficult or offensive. Honest, there are lots of things I dislike; I just don't watch, read, or attend them. All I ask is to be told up front about the material so I can make that educated, adult decision.

Crane Hana said...

Wonderfully affirming post! I count myself fortunate that by the time I started posting fan fic and publishing original stories, my 'Fu****u' filters were already very strong. Twenty years in commercial art does that to a person.

I genuinely don't want to hurt or trigger my readers. But I'm also going to write what I want, and cheer on my fellow authors for doing the same.