Transparency, Balance, Accuracy, and Community

Jeff VanderMeer • July 6th, 2008 @ 12:12 pm • Culture, Uncategorized, Writing Tips

I’ve been thinking over the past couple of days about the evolving nature of the internet and how that relates to writers and writing. Here are a few guidelines I think make a lot of sense for writers. I am sure someone somewhere has already codified all of this, but it’s important to me to state it for myself, and to remember how I want to strive to conduct my own communications.

(1) Choose your level of involvement with the internet, and stick to it. If you want minimal involvement, create a static website about your book or other creative endeavor. If you want medium-level involvement do a blog. If you want more, do more. But decide upfront what your approach will be, how much time you can spend, and whether you can actually follow through or not. As in any area of life, you will be judged by what you do, not what you say you’re going to do. The disconnect between words and actions will determine how much integrity you have in other people’s eyes.

(2) Make sure that the difference between who you are on the blogosphere and who you are in real life is minimal. While I can see the point of creating an online persona for distancing purposes–you want to have some personal space of your own–there are dangers in being too unlike your real self. One danger is you begin to believe your online persona is your real persona, and usually your online persona is going to be less complex than you as a human being. Another is the disconnect that occurs when people meet you in the flesh for the first time. (Other dangers are specific to the particular creative person.) Some difference is inevitable because people are often different in their writing, of course, but consciously thinking about this issue is important.

(3) Control any passive-aggressive tendencies. One useful thing about the internet is that it doesn’t support passive-aggressive approaches to communication. It tends to reward honesty and directness. While this means it can also discourage subtlety or nuance, in general I think this is a good thing. Passive aggressive approaches to communication are usually not constructive and do not support fundamental ideas of transparency.

(4) Only link to things that you think are worth promoting. Let’s take book reviews as an example. The fact is, anyone can post a book review on their blog. Linking to every single one of them lends legitimacy to much that’s little more than a public diary of stray thoughts. If a blog has a technorati rating of 2 and that blogger trashes your novel The Living Spleen of Prudence Boulevard, you’re under no obligation to post about it. If you’ve got a technorati rating of 400 and you do that, all you are doing is strengthening the enemy, so to speak. (If you’re publishing a book you don’t believe in 100 percent, I can’t help you here.) The hard lesson to learn is that just because something related to your work pops up on the blogosphere does not mean it should be linked to. Of course, if there’s something in a negative review that you find interesting and want to blog about–other than saying “this guy sucks”–that’s different.

(5) Contribute to the accuracy of the internet. Under the rules of the new transparency, pointing out errors of fact related to your work or your books is perfectly okay in my opinion. The internet is a lovely place but it is also easier, because of the immediate nature of the medium, to post something that contains inaccuracies. Making the internet a more accurate place is a positive thing. Correcting errors of fact is also a proactive way of protecting your reputation.

(5) Be helpful to others and contribute to the unimpeded flow of information across the internet. Now more than ever paying it forward is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. Information itself is no longer important in such a mega-world–it’s how you leverage that information. There is also nothing new that will not, within days sometimes, become old. Building connectivity is much more important. Within five years, this will become increasingly obvious. Take, for example, the idea of “genre gatekeepers”. Right now, they are dams across a river (the word “dam” is not used here with any positive or pejorative weight). Soon, they will be rocks around which the river flows. The ones who recognize this new paradigm will adapt and continue to be valuable both as mentors and as resources. Those who don’t will simply control smaller and smaller islands in that river. Eventually, no one will remember who they are or why they were once important.

(6) Understand the negative aspects of the internet and manage your behavior accordingly. Negative aspects of the internet and our electronic lives include: being trained in Pavlovian fashion to check our email every five seconds, having our Instant Messenger up 24-7, and writing on laptops where we can be interrupted at any moment. Some of these aspects of (post)modern life affect our attention span. Others turn perfectly viable tactics into an unsupportable and detrimental overall strategy. In all things, balance is required. As a writer, I feel the greatest dangers of the internet are (1) equating the constant appearance of new information and new correspondence with a requirement to immediately reply/be instantly available and (2) the constant, daily loss of uninterrupted time not only to write but to think about writing. Many writers and others who depend on the internet find themselves controlled by their involvement with the electronic world, without even realizing it. They still think they are in charge, but they are not: their tactics have become their strategy. If this addiction were an addiction to, for example, alcohol, the results would be obvious and the reaction of friends and society corrective. But when it comes to the internet, we’re nearly all addicted, and we receive so much instant gratification without understanding or monitoring the attendant dangers that we often do not even realize what we may have lost.

24 Responses to “Transparency, Balance, Accuracy, and Community”

  1. A Quick Link and I’ll Be Back Next Week « Not All Those Who Wander says:

    [...] a link to Jeff VanderMeer’s blog, Ecstatic Days though. It’s one of my favourites and today’s post in particular felt relevant to me, with what I was saying yesterday about the distraction of the [...]

  2. Adam says:

    Can you define the term “genre gatekeeper”? Of the points you make, point five was the least clear (to me).

  3. Brendan says:

    “Many writers and others who depend on the internet find themselves controlled by their involvement with the electronic world, without even realizing it.”

    I like this statement. I think the internet is in many ways very fun and useful. But for a writer it can be really dangerous. Particularly regarding creative thought, since every moment spent here, is one spent away from the creative world. Because the real creative world is one of introspection, reading, seeing things in real life. At least that is the creative world I am interested in. The internet magnifies in a sense the petty, and I often dont pay enough attention to the amazing things going on in the real world, because we are confined by the digital.

    That is why the regular places I visit on the internet, I have narrowed down to about 12.

  4. jeff vandermeer says:

    re five I just mean that because the world is changing the balance of power is shifting from the few to the many. members of the few who don’t understand this will quickly become completely superfluous. I wish I could be more concrete, but….

  5. Michael Phillips says:

    Thank you for this! I’ve been thinking about these same issues of late, you really helped me to focus.

  6. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Hey–Michael. I’d love your perspective on all of this, as I imagine you come at it from a slightly different angle.

    Jeff

  7. Sir Tessa says:

    Having lived without internet access at home for more than six months, I can say that yes, not having the constant exposure to ‘stuff’ cuts down on unnecessary distractions a whole lot, BUT, unless you’re already relatively disciplined, this lack of interuptions won’t gain you any extra work time. You’ll just find other useless things to do, like clean the oven. The schizophrenia of the internet just exacerbates an attention span issue that already exists.

    Still, I like being hard to contact.

  8. An Aside | VanderMeer on Internet Personality - A Dribble of Ink says:

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  9. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Tessa:

    I would–I think a first for us–disagree, when it comes to what I feel are the basic requirements for attempting to write the best possible fiction. And those requirements include a lack of fragmentation and a long gestation period of uninterrupted thought.

  10. Sir Tessa says:

    Ah, perhaps I’m confusing distraction with spacial control. I agree writing is best done on a computer screen that is not nudging you for your attention elsewhere. But everyone works best in different conditions. I require distractions to let my sub conscious do its thing.

  11. Cheryl’s Mewsings » Blog Archive » VanderMeer Speaks says:

    [...] has been offline over the holiday weekend. Jeff VanderMeer has been busy. In particular he posted this thoughtful essay on behavior on the Internet. I’m not sure that he’s right that passive-aggressive [...]

  12. Graham Storrs says:

    Jeff, This is a really interesting set of guidelines. Thought-provoking. I got especially caught up in number 2. I find so many blogging writers – the more popular ones anyway – are really up-beat, peppy types. Myself, I’m in a constant struggle against letting out the bitter, cynical old fart within. The peppy ones are obviously more helpful when it comes to community building, encouragement, inclusion and lots of other good things. Those of us who want to belong but feel that old urge to take our ball and go home have got to be a bit careful when blogging. It is too easy to turn to the dark side. So should I minimise the difference between the real me and what I put out there, or should I try to play nice with the other kiddies?

    It’s a tough one.

  13. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Personally, I think you should find a way to balance it. I.e., if every time someone comes to your blog it’s always to find something negative or dark there, that’ll probably turn people off. If they go to your blog and half the time it’s sweetness and light–which, c’mon–has to be part of your nature about some things, and the other half it’s cynical and whatnot, I think that’s just fine. In addition to playing nice, I think it’s just as important or more so to be yourself. And let the cards fall where they may. In trying to find this balance myself I created Evil Monkey as my alter ego to say the things that got me in trouble when I said them myself. So it’s a question I’m familiar with. :)

    Jeff

  14. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    In the link-back from Cheryl Morgan, she makes a point about (2) above that may be right…in the short time. I believe passive-aggressiveness always comes back to bite you in the butt on the internet at some point. We’ve lately seen that on one of the largest blogs on the internet.

    Jeff

  15. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    in the short term, I meant.

  16. Pete Tzinski says:

    Terrific list. I think comparing the internet to alcohol is a good idea…not just because of the negative aspects of both things, but because they both work nicely in moderation, and with a little planning.

    Sir Tessa points out a good thing too: that without the discipline, even a lack of the internet will just see you wandering around doing other things. For myself, whenever I’m unable to go on the internet (the power goes out, I’m away from home without a computer, etc), I find that I just relax and write gobs of stuff. But I think that’s just me.

    Anyway! Good list!

  17. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Oh–agreed. Without discipline nobody gets anywhere.
    JV

  18. links for 2008-07-07 | JeremiahTolbert.com says:

    [...] Ecstatic Days » Blog Archive » Transparency, Balance, Accuracy, and Community Jeff Vandermeer with wonderful advice for writers that blog. (tags: writing blogging jeffvandermeer SF) [...]

  19. Matt’s Bookosphere 7/7/08 « Enter the Octopus says:

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  20. Links for 09-07-2008 | Velcro City Tourist Board says:

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  21. Will Humphreys says:

    Really useful post. It’s given me a lot to think about. Thanks.

  22. Bill Ectric says:

    Jeff, for some time now I’ve had vague notions about many of your points. Thanks for giving shape and substance to ideas that formerly swirled intangibly around my head!

  23. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Glad it’s been useful. Having now been mostly off of the internet for three days, I’ve got some further thoughts, but won’t post those until October when I come back from writing my novel. One thought now is: I think I want to live primarily in the real world and much less in the virtual world.

    JV

  24. Blogging for Writers: The Tao of Blogging as Promotion for Writers : Spontaneous Derivation says:

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