Writers, your silence speaks volumes.
Remember when writers were cautioned not to express themselves politically?
Just a few years ago, articles would occasionally pop up advising writers not to post their political opinions on social media. Why, the authors of those articles gasped, you might lose readers!
Or, they admonished, writers were better served leaving our thoughts “to the experts.” Because, um, social media is the realm of experts.
Those articles were roundly, rightfully, criticized, and I haven’t seen any crop up since.
But, to be fair, social media isn’t necessarily a fair barometer of everyone’s political leanings or actions. Many writers I’ve spoken to are wary of how they’re represented in prose, regardless of format, and social media’s immediacy doesn’t allow for a studied approach or careful wording. Particularly if you’re a writer who takes an inordinate amount of time to craft a sentence.
I’ve seen this reserved approach fall most often to older writers who were writing prior to the advent of social media and still don’t quite grasp its importance and function.
When I was reared as a writer, in the pre-social-media days of the late 90s (nineteen-nineties, you assholes) and early 00s, the common sentiment was that a writer’s beliefs could be found in their work. If you wanted to know how a writer felt about a certain subject, don’t look to the writer, examine their writing.
And literary theories illuminated that notion. A feminist analysis of, say, John Updike’s work was markedly different than a Marxist interpretation…but both could prove revealing about an author’s intent and a work’s (both intended and unintended) impact.
This regard to deep examination was also notably helpful when excusing a (usually male) writer’s bad behavior. Don’t look at the writer, look at the writing was the mantra that provided bigotry and predatory actions a prevalent place in publishing for years. Abhorrent behavior was excused if a writer’s book displayed empathy, and the writer was usually given the gift of being labeled “complicated” or “misunderstood” or “Sherman Alexie.”
Our current era, both in social media and its constant fury, abandons that position. After all, we don’t need to do a deep dive into J.K. Rowling’s books to find out how she feels about human rights. She’ll, ugh, tell us.
Rather than their books, we can, increasingly, look to a writer’s own words and actions to understand their perspectives and the values they champion.
I go back and forth on that approach, especially in regard to social media. I both love and hate it, and my thoughts on it likely aren’t much different than yours. I find much of social media poisonous and depressive; at other times, it provides a lovely, shared experience.
There’s joy in writers posting good news, or friends showing pictures of their families or funny memes. I have a dutiful presence on every platform, even if I find faults with all of them.
For me — and this is obviously subjective — Facebook tends to be a place where, rather than civil discourse or information, people go to dig in their heels. Twitter, with its character limit, limits creativity.
For a writer, that’s deadly.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but I was today years old when I realized that every writer’s posts on Twitter use the same humor and are entirely indistinguishable, if you want to know how my day is going.
And much of the content on social media, even the content I agree with, is negative or tinged in negativity. It makes me angry, and anger, even though it has its purpose, is emotionally exhausting and morally taxing.
So social media isn’t the answer for everyone.
But silence isn’t the right approach for anyone.
Simply put, as we near one of the most contentious elections in American history and the troubling signs of its aftermath, those who routinely express themselves in prose have a responsibility to do so with more fervor.
Whether that’s social media, whether that’s in essays, whether that’s at rallies or protests, writers need to find the right outlet and utilize it. Do it with caution and precision and self-regard, but do it.
Don’t accept the right to be anonymous, the right to be silent as atrocities happen around you. Don’t claim stances of “objectivity” and “unbiased” and “duty” — particularly when, as the country reels and your family and friends and neighbors suffer, that reserved stance is nothing but code for cowardice.
When the next tragedy comes, don’t respond with a lukewarm, pointless, gutless, “I have no words.”
Writers, you have words.
And it’s your job to use them.
E.A. Aymar’s next novel, They’re Gone, written under the pseudonym E.A. Barres, comes out in November.