A Writer’s Guide to Online Etiquette
As a writer, doesn’t it really grill your beef when you comment on someone’s blog and they never reply? Recently, I stumbled upon a writer I find both challenging and insightful. She had begun a series of articles on her website that looked promising. The first piece read with passion and conviction, and though I did not agree with her conclusion entirely, I really appreciated the time she had obviously invested and the boldness she exhibited in taking such a stance on such a controversial matter. So I did what every Blogger would do: I commented on her article. I even hit that little button that asks if I want email notification of future comments. I was genuinely interested in dialogue with this writer.
After several days of not receiving an email with the news that she’d answered me, I returned to her site to find she has posted her second piece. ‘Okay,’ thought I, ‘maybe she legitimately hasn’t had time to respond, right? Give her a second chance.’ Additionally, I was genuinely interested in the progression of the ideas she’d established with the opening piece. So I did what every Reader would do: I read the next piece and, finding myself again appreciating her conviction and fire but not quite agreeing with her approach and resolution, I left a another comment.
Here it is necessary to say: I try very hard to be non-put-off-ish online. It is so, so easy to come across poorly when responding to someone else’s writing – especially online! So I worded my comments to this writer carefully in an effort to engage her and not come off as a random know-it-all who wanted to diss her on her own turf. And after several days of no email, again, I returned to her site to see if I’d missed a reply.
This blog is not an attempt to shame the writer. You’ll notice I’ve been vague in describing the circumstances and the only thing I’ve revealed about the writer is that she can be defined as a “she.” This blog, rather, is a reminder to all of us that writing presents the great opportunity of networking, of meeting people who have connected at least on some level (even if they don’t agree) with your words, and – quite frankly – of promoting our work and our selves. I think of C.S. Lewis, one of my few heroes, who wrote (I seem to recall) that he spent the first hour of each day responding to letters from kids who’d read his Narnia series. I doubt many authors today spend much time responding to fans in this manner, but the internet provides a unique opportunity to involve with fans and critics quickly and easily. And while situations and personalities insist there are no steadfast rules on how to exist as a writer in today’s interweb world, I would suggest there are a few key ideas we should all consider when branding ourselves online.
- Be Politic. It is true that there are folks out there who will stalk your words and try to make you look bad –trolls, as it were. You are under no obligation to give them voice or to condone their behavior towards yourself or others. However, I’ve seen it happen many times where an individual is labeled a troll simply because he doesn’t agree with someone else and may be less articulate in expressing his views. Call a spade a spade, right? A troll is a troll is a spade is a spade. But don’t assume that someone who disagrees with you is a boogeyman out to ruin your online image.
- Be Engaging. Invite others to get involved in the conversation, whether it be individuals who read your writing or individuals who may want to write a response piece. These are good things. Encourage them.
- Be Engaged. When someone reads your piece and “likes” it or leaves a comment, respond. A “like” often comes from another writer who happened upon your blog because you’ve used similar tags as them or because they were searching for a piece on a certain topic. Encourage that. Follow their link and even if you cannot “like” anything they’ve written with honesty, you will at least have visited their site and it will encourage them to keep writing and to keep visiting your site. And if they leave a comment, for crying out loud, respond. No reader who wishes to dialogue with you should feel unwelcome (unless you can judicially ascertain him to be a troll). Choosing to ignore reader comments is a good way to stop traffic to your blog – and no, I will not be returning for the third article in the example writer’s series.
- Be Gentle. In Beta work, I use what many describe as the Oreo Approach, where the critique and suggestions are sandwiched between two layers of encouragement. When someone does something well in their writing, we need to encourage it. And if you can only find one good thing to say, offer it, give your critique, and then reiterate the praise. Almost every writer I’ve ever read has done at least one thing exceptionally well, if I’m willing to open myself up to their style and tone and habits (we all have writing habits, for better or for worse—mine are em-dashes, ellipses, and parentheses).
- Be Humble. Nobody has to read your writing. Nobody has to click a link to your site. Nobody has to share your work with friends and family. Nobody has to comment or like or return for future pieces. Nobody owes you anything. Appreciate each and every person who encourages your writing – whether by liking, linking, commenting…each piece builds your online presence, and that is not something you innately deserve. You are not the bee’s knees. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought.
- And finally, Be Confident. You may not be on the cover of “Amazing Bloggers USA” or anything (if you are, congrats—cause I’m pretty sure I just made that up), and you may not be “the bee’s knees.” Nonetheless, you are the only you on the interwebs (hopefully!). You are the only person alive with the perspective, the opinion, the word choice, and the conviction that you bring. Don’t be intimidated by bloggers who have ginormous followings. Just keep going. Keep being you.
Keep writing; keep reading; keep smiling!