Writer 1: I received an email from X. She said she’d read this blog post of a man who thinks one of my books is horrible.
Writer 2: Oh. What were his exact words?
Writer 1: I don’t remember the exact words. Don’t make me go back and read them. Please, I beg you.
Writer 2: But who is he?
Writer 1: Actually, I don’t know anything about him.
For anyone who has been in the writing world long enough, they might have been Writer 1, Writer 2, counselled several Would-Be-Writers-1, or even been advised about how to avoid such situations altogether. Many times, the advice given and received can be distilled into one simple sentence: press the ‘Delete’ button. Here are five different scenarios of what can happen in such situations.
Writer 1 goes into a tail-spin of misery because the Blogger’s words are hurtful, malicious and painful to read. He withdraws from the world to lick his wounds. Five years later, he emerges from his self-imposed exile from the publishing world and realises that, in truth, many others had disagreed with what the blogger wrote, but didn’t have the courage (or couldn’t be bothered) to let him know. Writer 1 regrets the years spent being depressed and wished he’d pressed the ‘Delete’ button when he first received the email.
Writer 2, seeing her friend in such misery, decides to investigate the matter further. She makes discreet enquiries and finds out that the Blogger has been doing this to many other writers. All the other writers have ceased to have any contact with the Blogger and she advises Writer 1 to mentally press ‘Delete’ and forget this Blogger ever existed.
A Commissioning Editor at a publishing house happens to read the blog and becomes amused at how ridiculous the Blogger sounds. As a person who knows neither Writer 1 nor the Blogger, the Editor is completely objective in her opinion and decides that the Blogger is ‘crazy’. Then, as the universe often conspires to have some fun at the expense of us mere mortals, the Editor receives a submission from the said Blogger for a novel he’s written and wants the publisher to look at. The Editor is not going to risk taking on such a ‘crazy’ person and presses the ‘Delete’ button.
When the email first arrives, all Writer 1’s friends rally around him. They meet up for coffee and have a good gossip. Five years down the road, Writer 1 is invited to an international writing festival. The other writer friends are furious and envious in equal measure. They insist that Writer 1 refuse the invitation. Writer 1 ignores them and goes to the festival anyway. A year later, he publishes a new book, but when he sends out the announcement about it, all this friends press the ‘Delete’ button as they feel he betrayed them.
Two years after the conversation above, Writer 1 and 2 are no longer in contact as one has moved away to a different country. Writer 1 reads about Writer 2’s success and is genuinely happy for his friend. The problem is that Writer 1 also notices that Writer 2 is now in contact with the Blogger. Writer 1 is left wondering how to deal with this situation. When Writer 1 does receive an email from Writer 2, panicked, he presses the ‘Delete’ button. He worries that Writer 2 may have told the Blogger all his secrets and Writer 1 chooses to withdraw into the safety of his cocoon. ‘After all,’ he reasons with himself, ‘a writer’s life is a lonely one.’
Other than the ‘Delete’ button, the common denominator in all these scenarios is the element of risk that a writer takes. John Coates, in an article called, ‘Risk Factor: How biology can explain what drives banks to the brink of disaster’, writes about what happens when traders take on too much risk. Although his article is completely unrelated to the writing world, he analyses that element of risk-taking and the biology behind it. If one were to paraphrase what Coates writes and put a publishing slant to it, a new premise that may emerge is this:
When writers are put into a stressful situation, their response can go into overdrive. They are in crisis mode and feel completely uncertain. They feel anxious and remember disturbing memories. They certainly feel hopeless and the need to ‘run away from it all’ becomes paramount. To others, this may seem like an irrational response, but their judgment is completely impaired.
If you look at all the scenarios mentioned above, you’ll recognise who gave a considered response and who was irrational. Coates solution is to ask banks to get their risk managers to learn to manage traders’ exuberance, fatigue and stress. In an ideal world, the writer should have someone they can turn to, someone they can trust completely to help them in such situations. Unfortunately, many writers don’t have such a luxury. Perhaps, that is the lesson for all writers: to find a suitable risk manager. In this way, when a possible crisis arises, if and when the ‘Delete’ button is pressed, it will the right thing to do.
Aneeta Sundararaj created, developed and managed her website, howtotellagreatstory.com on her own. You can learn from her strategies (and mistakes) by downloading her FREE eBook, Website Makeover. Visit howtotellagreatstory.com to know more.