Have you ever experienced the phenomenon whereby you are rolling along, doing what you are doing with a clean heart and a good intention, and then suddenly (and it’s usually sudden and unexpected) someone comes along and brutally attacks you for no apparent reason, verbally accusing you of all kinds of crimes which have never entered your head, let alone made it through you into any sort of action?
It can knock you for six (as we say in England), can’t it?
Sometimes an attack can be so savage that you begin to question whether or not it has any validity. You start to introvert and wonder if you have in fact done any of the things of which you’re accused. It can make you feel ill and uncertain for quite some time.
As we, as writers, enter the wide open field that is presented to us through social media, we also become more visible, louder and larger than we might otherwise be. Writers used to stay closeted in attics or back rooms, scribbling or typing away, quite some distance in time and space from anyone else; if their works were accepted by publishers, it still took a while for their words to reach the public at large. But these days we can post an incomplete excerpt from a story on the internet and have millions read it instantly. It has become much easier to contact other people than at any other point in human history. We tend to take that for granted, but the world wide web now makes it possible to communicate far more widely than ever before. Writers (and artists, and everyone else) can be much more intensely ‘seen’ than previously. The personas that we create and present to the world through avatars, author platforms, interviews, comments and posts appear instantly in front of a global audience - and they appear not on a distant billboard or in a newspaper or even on a television screen, all of which can be ignored fairly easily: they appear right there, right in the faces of the audience, on screens only a couple of feet away or on smartphones held in the hand.
Human beings across the planet are suddenly much more real to each other.
It’s not surprising, then, that there is a lot of ‘reaction’.
If we imagine a quiet library in which people are privately getting on with what they are doing without disturbing others much, and then a noisy intruder bounces in, his or her music and voice blaring and disturbing the peace, it’s quite easy to predict that those dwelling in their placid corners will yell at the newcomer to get out, or shut up, or stop doing whatever he or she is doing. ‘You’re breaking the rules!’ they would justifiably shout, before turning to others to warn them against the temptations that the loud newcomer might offer.
It’s all very understandable, but what it means is that the newcomers, with their bright ideas, fast-paced work practises and colourful attractions can be the subject of vicious attacks in an attempt to close them down. It happens. It’s part of being part of the human race, with its different tastes and speeds and preferences.
In practice, this is the sequence: slower-paced, more traditional and orderly world encounters faster-paced, unconventional and slightly disordered world. Result? Friction, ranging from explosive clashes to disgruntled disagreements. We see this in the ongoing relationship between older generations and the upcoming adolescents of the new. We see this magnified through the technology of the internet into all kinds of incendiary messages, comments, posts, tweets and the like, as human beings across the planet discover and communicate with each other.
What to do?
If you have been subject to such an attack, and are suffering from introversion and self-doubt because of it, but your heart is clean and your intentions are good, then you really have no choice but to get up, dust yourself off and continue on your chosen path. You’ll find that the attack was an explosion that was waiting to happen, usually because you appeared in someone’s face, literally, moving too quickly or doing something that that person considered too dangerous. The attacker isn’t even necessarily ‘wrong’, in the conventional sense: they just weren’t expecting and didn’t like the speed and unpredictability of what they saw, and reacted.
Such reactions are normally short-lived, like any reaction to anything. What counts is the action. Continue the well-intentioned action, and you will find that the explosions still happen once in a while, but in the meantime, if your aim is noble and your methods honest, you will be building something that no reaction will be able to shake.