Deconstructing the Myth: You Do NOT Have To Suffer To Be A ‘True Artist’

My son, four-years-old at the time and sitting next to me with a sticky juice box in hand, offhandedly asked, “Mom, are you an artist?” Surprised by the question from a boy whose typical discourse involved Duplos, Matchbox cars, and the Rugrats, I smiled and answered, ‘Yes, sweetheart, I am.” He looked over with shy admiration and declared, “You’re so bwave.”

Beyond the Elmer Fuddian dialect that never failed to slay me, his comment pricked tears because, regardless of what inspired either the question or the response (he had nothing more to add when prodded), he was right: it does take courage to be an artist. What it doesn’t take? Or, perhaps, more accurately, what is not required, is suffering.

It’s a hoary meme, suffering for one’s art, one that’s likely been bandied since the onset of man + art, conjuring images of sweat-drenched cave painters, bloodletting Roman sculptors; emaciated Frenchmen in grubby garrets fighting off scurvy to complete their latest masterpiece. There are slews of celebrated suicidal poets, iconic authors awash in clinical depression; famed dancers beset by eating disorders, drug-addled musicians, and brilliant comic minds battered by addiction and self-loathing. And from this wealth of damaged artistic souls, the myth emerged: that true art demands such torture, inspires such laments; that those talented enough to wear the mantle of true artist are inevitably destined to suffer, to angst, to be eternally roiled and ennuied.


I am not impugning the greatness of the many great artists who were/are inflicted by any of this litany of miseries. Nor am I suggesting that suffering prevents one from being a true artist (though with some it certainly can). What I’m saying is there is no linkage. No equation. No cause and effect. They are simply two different things: art and human affliction. There’s no + with a desired = to follow. They do not go together like a horse and carriage. They do not go together at all.

As for artists who are depressed, suicidal, addicted, troubled, and sick, the question must be asked: Would they suffer so even if they weren’t artistic; if they were doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists, or plumbers? I suspect so. Yet we don’t automatically assign “suffering” as a prerequisite to any of those other professions.

Frankly, subscribing to the “suffering theory” can be detrimental to one’s health: believing it is natural, expected, inevitable for an artist to endure the Sturm und Drang of creative malaise sets one up to wear suffering like a mantle, a red badge of courage. It suggests artistic agony is romantic. It might even give one franchise to “act out” in deference to the dictum, to allow oneself to crash-and-burn as a matter of presumed destiny. As a self-destructive painter once said to me after nearly drinking himself to death, “I’m an artist, it’s what we do.”

I’m attuned to this at the moment because just this week I was inundated by a series of articles pushing the myth, offering impassioned treatises, provocative quotes, sighs of resignation from various artists, old and new, living and dead, in support of the “suffer theory.” And, as is often the case, these quotes and essays were presented with breathless aggrandizement granted by virtue of the quotee’s celebrity, success, or agree-upon excellence. These folks know, therefore this theory must have merit.

What these folks know is their own singular experience. Their individual states of being and how it all goes—or went—with their unique participation in the arts, their chosen allegiance to the “suffer theory” as they found it applicable to them. Their mistake, I’d posit, is in assuming it applies to everyone and, with the power of their celebrityhood, turning it into belief.

For example:

“No artist is pleased… no satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” ~ Martha Graham, choreographer

What I’d suggest is that Martha felt that way, then made a declaration about it, which then became a mantra for those who celebrate her.

But, all due respect to the great Martha Graham, I beg to differ. Many artists, myself included, have found satisfaction in the creation and communication of their art, the outside enjoyment of what they created; the success—minimal or grand—that offered enough encouragement to carry on.

I would argue that it is not “blessed unrest” or “divine dissatisfaction” that enlivens an artist, keeps them creating, drives them to accomplish profound work. It’s not madness, despair, or angst that compels true artistry. It’s the relentless, compelling, burning desire to create; to get out on paper, on canvas; on stage, through instruments and voice; that idea, that image, that sound that demands conception, that tickles nerves and brain and synapses so thoroughly one can’t sleep for needing to express it.

That’s not suffering. That’s the exhilaration of artistic inspiration.

But even the great writer e.e. cummings, in critique of artistic academia, pushed the suffering conceit in the aptly titled article, The Agony of the Artist (with a capital A)

“… being temperamental, we scorn all forms of academic guidance and throw ourselves on the world, eager to suffer — eager to become, through agony, Artists with capital A.”

In e.e.’s estimation, it’s not just any artistic suffering, it’s the kind of agony that alchemizes a lower case artist into one “with a capital A.” What a siren song that must be for the tender, gullible spirit seeking artistic guidance!

Rinse and repeat my response to Martha.

But if you thought the notion belonged only to philosophers of yore, you’d be mistaken. Another article this past week referenced a young, contemporary writer who asserts in Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing the following:

“Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.”

Never? Ever?

Zadie had other, more useful, items within her “rules of writing” (though such lists are anathema to me, given my subversive view that there are NO rules to writing), but still I’d repeat my Martha response to her last “rule.” Instructing writers to resign themselves to “the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied” is, to me, a disservice. As with Martha, I’d guess that is Zadie’s view as it applies to her. For you? I’d encourage you to reject it wholesale; embrace the “heresy” that you can, should, ought to feel joy, find satisfaction, revel in accomplishment, even fall in love with your own work as you artistically evolve. That is your right as an artist; the other is an assigned burden of no particular value.

As a take-away to all this, let me reference back to my son’s statement: While agony and suffering are not prerequisites to artistry, courage is. Because art—expressing art, pursuing art, doing art—is as close to a person’s entity as skin and bones and heart and soul. It’s not a thing “out there” to be learned at the hands of professors, teachers, mentors, and skilled practitioners. Beyond technique (which can be learned), art—at its most creative, bold, individualistic, daring, experimental, and innovative— is innate, intrinsic, endemic to an artist’s being, the essence of who they are, not just what they do, and in that it becomes deeply, profoundly, elementally unique to that person. It becomes Personal, with a capital P (to borrow from e.e. cummings!).

To be vulnerable and intimate enough to make personal art, then make public that art, exposing it to the potential of rejection, misinterpretation, critique, insults, and painful, hurtful, soul-scraping judgment takes courage. To get up after each onslaught to continue tapping into one’s soul to access what bubbles within takes courage. Honoring your muse by not ignoring or discarding your talent takes courage.

Courage is not suffering. One is necessary, the other is not. As I’ve chosen to be courageous enough to be frequently satisfied, occasionally pleased; persistently enlivened, relentlessly creative, selectively frustrated, mildly self-effacing, but always, indefatigably artistic without suffering, I hope you will too. It’s far less exhausting on body and soul… which only leaves room for more creativity.

Photo by Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash
Dancer In a Red Dress & Joy of Song by LDW

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It’s Writers And Editors Who Are Most Honored On July 4th…Really! (a Redux)

Given my knee-deepness in cranking out novel #3, my blog has, once again, been sadly neglected. So this “oldie but goodie” 4th of July post, a favorite of mine, stands in as a worthy re-share for the holiday. Enjoy and celebrate!

Flag Waver_by Lorraine Devon Wilke

Teacher: “Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?”

Student: “On the bottom.”
From Top Ten Fourth of July Jokes For Kids

As a writer, a grammarian of sorts, and certainly someone who edits and fine-tunes everything I write within an inch of its life, the 4th of July holds special meaning to me. Which may seem surprising. Why, you may ask, does this most iconic of American holidays, one celebrated with parades, picnics, flags and fireworks in honor of our country’s glorious state of independence, resonate with a writer and editor? Simple: the day is a celebration, of sorts, of our most noble profession.

Don’t believe me? If you do even the most cursory research on exactly why we’ve come to celebrate this exact date, what you’ll likely find is a myriad of hazily similar but often inaccurate facts, with at least one that’s indisputable: what actually happened on the fourth day of July in 1776:

It was the day the writers and editors of the document finally gave a thumbs-up to the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.

It wasn’t signed that day, it wasn’t declared as law that day; it was simply (or not so simply!) the day it passed muster with a fierce group of literary and legal minds who understood its importance and wanted to be certain every word, every pause, every piece of punctuation was exactly as intended. Historical website,, confirms that on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress – after much editing, tweaking, and rewriting of previous drafts – finally approved what would be the ultimate, accepted verbiage of this momentous document. And while certainly those of us who traffic in our own versions of such literary activities find the accomplishment meritorious of a firework or two, it was not widely seen at the time as worthy of celebration. In fact, it was a frustrated John Adams who stepped up years later to pop the day into the cultural zeitgeist. Well, maybe not the day itself, but the celebration of the day. And maybe he didn’t exactly pop it, but he did have something to do with kicking it into gear.

That celebrating the 4th needed to be kicked into gear is not all that surprising once you’re aware that the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that auspicious and momentous occasion memorialized by countless fine art paintings and stentorian expressions of oratory, actually occurred on August 2nd of 1776. Almost a month later. So how, you ask, did “July 4, 1776” come to be the “day of American independence”?

Likely in honor of those writers and editors who fine-tuned the document into its final form. The date “July 4, 1776” was affixed to the original handwritten copy they completed that was then signed by our most celebrated of Founding Fathers on August 2,1776, the copy that now hangs in the National Archive in Washington, D.C. The date “July 4, 1776” was also printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the “original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation.” For those two obvious reasons, July 4, 1776 became the official date attributed to our Declaration of Independence.

And, really, after all these years and all our “4th of July” celebrations, doesn’t “the 2nd of August” just sound feeble?

But still, no attendant celebrations occurred until many years after 1776, the country and its citizens far too distracted by the demands of burgeoning democracy to party down at the time. It seems, much like today, that partisan divides between the various political factions were fierce and unrelenting, and much of the rancor had to do with the Declaration itself. Some, the Democratic-Republicans (can you imagine a party actually combining those two disparate political assignations?), supported Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration; the Federalists on the other side thought it was a bunch of pro-French/anti-British hooey. The only things missing from this colonial melee were cable news and blowharding talk show hosts!

And with that political rumble as a backdrop, as well as the War of 1812 to contend with, who had time to think about fireworks? At least the pretty kind that blew up in the sky? But despite these many distractions, the date was an important marker for the aforementioned – and very outspoken – John Adams. In 1817, this Founding Father and well-known letter-writer is said to have written a missive expressing his frustration that, by ignoring the  momentousness of its historical milestones, America seemed “uninterested in its past.” The complaint apparently struck a chord:

As post-1812 War politics shifted, the “anti-Declaration” Federalists spun into disarray and by the 1820s and 1830s, the political parties that evolved from this seismic shift came to agree on at least one thing: that all Americans were “inheritors” of what Jefferson and his party had wrought: the glorious Declaration of Independence. National pride spiked, copies went flying around the nation as evidence of America’s greatness (all dated, as noted earlier, with “July 4, 1776”), and attitudes about the date and the importance of its celebration changed. Particularly when, in what can only be seen as a confluence of epic and cosmic perfection, both men so instrumental in establishing this profound document – John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – died within hours of each other on July 4th, 1826, forever anointing the date as one of monumental significance to the United States of America.

So between his signing of the Declaration, his grumbling letter of 1817, and his eerily well-timed denouement (giving Jefferson a nod for the same!), John Adams more than played his part in helping define this day as worthy of celebration. It took Congress almost 100 years after the initial signing to codify the date into American culture, but it was declared in 1870 that the “4th of July” was, indeed, and would always be, a national holiday.

Which in every community in America translates to warm, neighborly activities, the excitement of children waving sparklers against a star-lit sky, wonderful food shared with friends and family, fireworks to “ooh” and “ahh” over, and, of most importance, the sense of enduring community and national pride based on ideals – and a very well-written and edited document – of stellar and unassailable grandeur.

John Adams would be smiling. Certainly writers and editors across the land are!

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Writer or Author? What To Call Whom and Other Industry Silliness

writer author copy

A writing colleague of mine sent me an interesting article recently; wanted my opinion on a piece written by a book blogger with a rather fierce agenda about who gets to call themselves an “author” these days. The piqued pontificator asserted that there are fundamental distinctions to be made between “author” and “writer,” nuances he deemed essential to preventing confusion in the literal and virtual book-buying marketplace.

And here I thought readers just wanted to know which were the good books!

This inexplicably grumpy guy (who shall remain nameless and linkless in a nod to collegial decorum), purports to have his finger on the pulse of the book industry’s beating heart, and takes personal umbrage at our loosey-goosey tendency to let just anyone use the term “author.” Since it’s a matter of great importance to him, and, unfortunately, many others in this rapidly evolving marketplace, I decided to give his thesis a whirl:

According to our parsing pundit, the title of “author” applies only within this very limited parameter: a writer who makes a living with the books they write. Their full-time living. No side-jobs. No article writing, copyediting, babysitting; mowing of the neighbor’s lawn, or even the occasional catering gig. If there is any under-the-table commerce unrelated to the business of the book, well then, they are not an author. They are just a writer.

Why that assignation—writer— is considered lesser, I do not know; but, apparently, it is.

Obviously this semantical corralling would include most self-published authors—I mean, writers—because, except for the select few who’ve managed to self-publish their way to enviable fame and fortune, the rest are busy selling real estate, proofing web copy, or teaching grade schoolers while pursuing their passion on the side…and until they hit their literary jackpot. Our bitching blogger believes distinctions are to be made for these folks.

But even if you agree with him, I have to ask: why should the distinction matter…to anyone? And yet it does. To that particular blogger and others I’ve encountered along the way. So much so that self-publishers who dare refer themselves as “authors” are likened, in some ways, to paralegals posing as attorneys, interns marching hospitals in doctor whites, or security guards puffed up like the NYPD Blue. In other words: pretenders, imposters, frauds.

Really? The distinctions between writer and author are SO carved in stone as to allow the Word Police to pejoratively deny one group use of the more vaunted descriptive of author?  Well, how ’bout we leave it to the dictionary? 

Author: noun; 1. a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work; 2. the literary production or productions of a writer; 3. the maker of anything; creator; originator. Verb: to write; be the author of:

That seems clear. Shall we continue?

Writer: Noun: 1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist. [emphasis added]

Yep, as interchangeable as driver and motorist, teacher and educator; trapeze artist and aerialist. More importantly, did you note the first, most important definition of “writer”? According to the dictionary, it’s the writer who’s identified as the professional, not the author!

Holy bloviating blogger, that drops the whole theory on its head!

But while I poke fun at the condescension of said cynic and his ilk, the sad fact remains that they are emblematic of many who marginalize independent, self-published authors as dilettantes and amateurs, relegating them (sometimes literally) to card tables in the back room rather than up on the dais with the “real authors.” Fair? No. But the nose-snubbing endures.

It likely began with the vanity press, that notorious business model that gave amateur writers the opportunity to publish their work for a fee. The narcissism of the option was presumed: anyone who would pay to have their own book made, a book they obviously couldn’t get published through professional means, must surely be a vainglorious sort.

Forget that they might have just wanted a few copies to leave the family.

Self-pub meme

But moving past vanity presses came the even more paradigm-shifting digital revolution, which first hit the music industry like a hurricane, forcing analogue studios into Pro Tools machines, and traditional record companies upside-down-you-turn-me. No one was sure how to adjust (it’s still a conundrum…see Taylor Swift and Spotify; see Apple and Spotify, see Spotify and Pandora…), but adjustments were and continue to be made. And artists who’d previously been kept outside the gates were suddenly making and selling their own, affordably recorded, music, while payment formulas, arcane to begin with, went up in smoke. No one knows how anyone’s making a living these days, but there’s lots of great music and many excellent (heretofore ignored) singers, songwriters, bands, and musicians who are finally able to get their work out there. That, alone, is worth a great deal to a great many.

Are they, then—those scratching out a living however they can while playing gigs, hawking CDs, and keeping hope alive on the Internet—allowed to call themselves musicians, recording artists, bands, and so on? Of course! Because they actually are all those things. How they get their art produced and delivered, or how much money they’re able to accrue in the process, has zero bearing on their talent, skill, or the value and artistry of their work.

Or what they’re called.

Is it all good work? No. But it never was all good work, even when record companies were stationed like trolls at the gate. But much of it is astonishing music that would have never seen the light of day under the old regime. And now it’s the audience, the marketplace, that not only has access to many more artists by virtue of this democratization, but will be the arbiter of just how the supply and demand piece plays out.

That same paradigm shift is happening in book publishing.

Since sites like Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks, IngramSparks and others have created platforms for independent authors to upload, publish, and sell their work, similar fears, criticisms, and condescensions have percolated. But just as those who naysay indie musicians tend to be backward travelers, so, too, are the curmudgeons who’d generalize, dismiss, and denigrate independent authors across the boards.

Because the talent, skill, and artistry of authors is not based on whether or not they fit the narrow demands of publishers scrambling to stay relevant (or solvent); nor is it based on whether the sum total of dollars they’re able to earn is enough to cover their bills. No; the talent, skill and artistry of authors is based on…drum roll…the talent, skill, and artistry of each individual author. Period.

Is every book by a self-published author a good one? No, of course not. That’s been established. But many are as profound, as resonating, as any good book sitting on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. And, conversely, all one has to do is ferret through a book bin at CVS, peruse the racks at an airport, or consider some of the most viral of bestsellers put out by traditional publishers to find examples of the kind of drek that makes our blogger’s teeth grind.

It’s past time for the media, the publishing industry, book stores, and cultural taste-makers to move beyond elitist, myopic attitudes about the clearly indefatigable self-publishing world. As that demographic evolves, the authors within it will raise their own bar to demand the highest standards from its members: constructive peer pressure designed to make sure the steps are taken, the funds invested, and the necessary work done to deliver the most excellent books possible. And what will happen then is that more and more of those authors will break through the barriers to slowly but surely make more money, get more attention, and find their way onto bestseller lists, award tables, Kindles, and bed stands of discerning readers.

Because they are authors, just as the dictionary confirms: “writers creating original, literary works.” Which is exactly what self-published and independent authors have been doing all along.

Image courtesy of Wellcome Images @ Wikimedia Commons

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The Kindness of Strangers… Meet Brenda Perlin

Brenda Perlin

I don’t know Brenda Perlin. We’ve never met, we’ve never spoken; we’ve never even emailed each other (except for a Kindle gift book). I’ve connected with her through sites like Goodreads or Facebook, particularly a Facebook writers group called Master Koda, and though she’s a fellow writer, so far I’ve only read one of her books (a short story for kids called “Ty the Bull,” written with K.D. Emerson and Rex Baughman). Yet, despite this seemingly peripheral relationship, no one has done more to promote and raise a ruckus about my novel, After The Sucker Punch, than this woman. Which I find both astonishing and profound.

There are some artists so focused on their own work that they rarely look outside that narrow sphere to see what others around them might be doing. I have people in my Facebook circle who show up only to post their gig notices, theater schedules, release dates of their CDs/books/films/blogs, or calls-to-action for petitions, votes, and Kickstarter campaigns, but they rarely comment on or share similar posts of others and it seems clear they’re not paying one damn bit of attention to me! 🙂 Which is fine. They don’t have to. But still… I always wonder why they’re there in the first place.

This “disinterest syndrome,” in fact, at least per countless conversations I’ve had with other artists on the topic, often extends outside social media to impact even our closer circles of family and friends. We’re all busy, certainly, but one can’t help but notice the repeatedly unopened or unanswered emails about the new site, the art opening, or the release of a new book; the forgotten promises to leave a review or share the book/CD/film/art piece with known contacts in the industry; the lack of response to queries, promotions, and candid requests to “check out my (fill in the blank).” We all have those people around us (and they tend to be the ones sending “sincere pleas” to donate to their Kickstarter campaigns!).

Then there’s Brenda Perlin.

When my book first came out, I was lucky enough to have some wonderful friends and colleagues who’d read advance copies and left reviews on the Amazon page… which helped greatly with marketing and promotion. But the very first “stranger review” came from Brenda. I didn’t know who she was; it just said “Brenda” on the Amazon page, but it was a thoughtful, impassioned, and very specific review… the kind you revel in as a writer (she even quoted lines from the book!). I later figured out she was the “Brenda Perlin” in the Master Koda writers group to which I belonged and sent her a private Facebook message in thanks. She responded with such sincere appreciation for the book that I was additionally touched.

But she wasn’t done there. She wrote another review on Goodreads, shared information about the book on Pinterest, Twitter and other sites, and within days, I stumbled upon a post from her blog titled, “After the Sucker Punch…a Novel by Lorraine Devon Wilke rocks… and then some!” in which she not only included her Amazon review, but extrapolated further on the book, using a few very clever photos with the cover embedded in random places like bus stop banners, door hangers and urban billboards… like this one:

ATSP subway_photo art by Brenda Perlin

And, to top it off, before I could barely blink an eye after I’d posted my new short story, “She Tumbled Down,” at Amazon, Brenda had already downloaded it, read it, and left a review both there and at Goodreads.

To be honest, I was just blown away. No one before or since (at least not yet!) has made that kind of unsolicited effort to push my work out into the marketplace and I have no idea why Brenda was compelled to do so for me. But beyond her expressed appreciation of my work, I’ve come to realize it’s simply who she is, her very generous and thoughtful nature. She gets it.  She knows what artists need and want in terms of response to their work and she’s gracious enough to offer it. She has the consideration to step outside of herself to provide something of value to her fellow artists. And that’s a gift.

I’ve seen her reach out to many other authors to review their work, encourage them to keep going, and promote their promotions. She must read more than anyone on earth and always takes time to leave a meaningful review that focuses on the positive aspect of whatever she reads. She seems to know when a newbie need a boost, a journeyman could use a hand, or just how and when to tweet, click, share, or comment so that prime attention gets paid in all the right places. She’s like the Johnny Appleseed of indie writers!

I have not yet had the chance to read her other books beyond the short story mentioned above, but I wanted to do something to thank her for being who she is, to acknowledge just how grateful I am for her efforts on my specific behalf. That I can do by throwing a little light her way.

So please visit, “like,” click, download, or just say hello. She’s a rare breed in this crazy world of distraction and disinterest; one of those “strangers” whose kindness changes that status much more quickly than most!

Her blog: Brooklyn and Bo Chronicles
Facebook writer’s page
Twitter: Brenda Perlin
LinkedIn: Brenda Perlin
Amazon Author’s Page: Brenda Perlin

Photo of Brenda from her Facebook page.
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Free Book Promotions: How Good ARE They For Writers?

Buy my book it's free_r

Heard at a recent garage sale: “I always take free stuff even when I’m not sure I want it. I mean, it’s FREE; I can always throw it out!

Contemporary culture seems to have a conflicted relationship with free. People will hip-check each other to get to a neighborhood “free box” first, then get suspicious when eager salesmen dangle promotional freebies to close a sale. We all love a free meal but will still wonder what’s wrong with business that the restaurant is offering it. We can rationalize downloading music without payment, yet barely blink when art is auctioned for millions on the basis of “perceived artistic value.”

Then there are books, given away by the boatload in “free book promotions” in hopes of snagging that ever-more desirable demographic: the e-book reader. As the format surpasses all others in global book sales, the seduction of this burgeoning audience has become the mission statement of all book sellers, including indie authors, making Amazon’s brainchild promotion the Holy Grail.

To the uninitiated, the “free book promotion” is a strategy whereby writers offer their e-books free-of-charge for a number of days during their Kindle Select enrollment period. The objective is to entice readers in hopes they’ll download your book, leave a review, stir up positive word-of-mouth, then come back to buy your other books that aren’t free. This presumes, of course, that you have other books; it also presumes those planned objectives are met.

Are they?

Depends who you talk to. Some authors report getting thousands of free downloads, winning higher Amazon rankings and heightened name awareness as a result. Others tout similar stats but lament the cost of sites like BookBub and others that charge $200+ to promote those free promotions. Still others contend that the strategy’s value has peaked, as the sheer glut of free product has lowered incentive for readers to ever pay for books (despite e-books already being cheaper than other formats). Writers themselves are conflicted.

I asked indie author, Martin Crosbie, who’s had tremendous success with his books, particularly his novel, My Temporary Life, his view of the strategy:

“If I had not had the ability to offer my book for free I would not have found the readers I have. Reduced and free pricing has been the difference for me between connecting with hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of readers each month as opposed to just a handful. Hopefully some of these tried and true methods will remain effective for a little while as we all scramble to increase our readership, because really, we’re not just selling books. We’re building our reader base; that’s where our real focus is.”

Most would agree, yet some believe the proliferation of freebies has permanently altered the landscape, both in the perceived value of writers and their work and the mindset of readers who’ve become habituated to not paying for books. Literary agent, Jill Corcoran, makes that point in her piece, The Devaluation of Writers, By Writers:

“I get it, we all want our books to be read… getting your foot in the door/getting your e-book on anyone and everyone’s e-reader is the first step to [hopefully] selling these buyers your second book. BUT, if your self-pubbed book is free, and, according to bookgorilla, John Green’s THE FAULT OF OUR STARS e-book is worth $3.99, then all of us in publishing will need to downsize our houses, our food bill, our lifestyles because unless you are selling a heck of a lot of books, at $3.99 or 1/8th of $0.99 or at the golden ‘price’ of FREE, we have all just devalued ourselves to a point of below the already pitiful American minimum wage.” [Emphasis added.]


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Why I Hate Online Commenters… Well, SOME Of Them Some Of The Time


Everyone’s a critic. Everyone’s a better writer. Everyone knows what you should have said, what you said wrong, why you’re an idiot, why they could do better; how stupid you are, what a pointless article you wrote, what shoddy journalism you practice, how you’re like Sean Hannity (yes, I got that one), and why you should just “shut the fuck up and get a life.” Yeah… quotes. Cuz someone actually said that.

Commenters. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live… well, we’ll leave it at that.

The comment feature under every article, every image – in fact, pretty much everything online – was designed to engender interaction, create involvement, and inspire a dialogue. Its hopeful intent was to connect readers with each other and with the writer (or artist of whatever medium) in the spirit of public engagement. It was a good idea and when it works, it can be a powerful forum: great for feedback, lovely for compliments and support; convenient in terms of exchanging interesting ideas, getting new angles on the subject matter, even tangling in hearty debate. When it works.

When it doesn’t, well… the image above is a pretty accurate depiction of how it goes. And, to be honest, that’s how it goes too often. It ain’t pretty and, frankly, I hate that part of my job.

Because, tell me, when did the job description of “writer” come to automatically include the addendum of “punching bag”? I wonder if college professors have created writing courses now to teach “how to endure commenters”? If not, they should.

Where that rare phenomenon of commenting productively happens most is on Facebook. Not hard to figure; most people are there with their real names and faces. If they have access to your posts it’s because you know them, they know you, they requested to become a “friend” because they like your work, or they connected to you via someone else you know. They’re a fairly welcoming bunch and even when it gets feisty, it’s more “friendly fire” than the hardcore volleys experienced elsewhere. And if it does get out of hand – as it is wont to do when you’re a “public figure” and unknown subscribers come aboard – it’s a simple matter of blocking the more heinous participants from the firing line.

Twitter is usually pretty benign, as well. Not quite as intimate as Facebook, but anyone looking at and able to respond to your tweets is there because they chose to “follow” you or someone else who’s following you, so it’s unlikely they’re going to get too aggressive in 140 characters (though it’s been known to happen!).

Where it does get down-dirty ugly? In the comment sections under your articles. Dear God…

It’s as if being given the ability, the permission, to comment on the work of others has unleashed the hounds of hell in some people, given them carte blanche to be incredibly hostile, verbally assaultive, vile, insulting and aggressive in ways that tell me they see this whole commenting thing as an outlet for some deep, personal rage. I’m a pretty tough chick but there are days I feel like I’ve had more poop thrown on me than the mother of a one-year-old.

It doesn’t appear it’s enough for these types of commenters to just say, “I don’t agree with you,” or “I think you missed some things,” or “You made a mistake,” or “I love the Post Office.” No, it goes from reading however much of an article their attention will hold before they’re compelled to spew (which is sometimes just after the headline!) and then it’s a straight shot below the belt, with as much snarling, sneering vituperation as they can muster and still type.

I always wonder, and sometimes actually say, “Why don’t you do the work of researching, writing, editing, fine-tuning and carefully putting together an article; do the work of getting it out to publishers and websites, go through the vetting process to get it accepted and published, and after you’ve done all that, how ’bout I come over there and punch you in the gut, call you names, and castigate you in every way I can manage… how about that?!”

Because that’s pretty much the drill. It appears some people think you’ve traded your humanity for the generic, faceless role of WRITER, a replicant at the mercy of their slings, arrows, pitchforks and… poop.

But here’s the deal: that isn’t part of the bargain. That isn’t the contract between writers and their readers. The real contract?

My part: I write. I’ll always deliver my very best (because that’s how I roll); I’ll research the hell out of what I write but if I make a mistake, let me know and I promise I’ll fix it (and give you credit!). I’ll do my utmost to make sure the copy is correct, the names are spelled right and the facts are accurate. I’ll put in the work to create flow, rhythm, pacing and verbal acuity. I’ll offer depth, background and context, maybe I’ll even make you laugh. And I won’t put it up for publishing until it’s the best possible article I can deliver, for your sake and mine.

Your part? You read, preferably all of an article before you jump. Don’t latch onto a word or phrase and then rush to counter; take the time to take it all in and see, if viewed as a whole, it makes sense. When you’re done, if you have something to say, BE CIVIL. Don’t get personal. Don’t insult me, call me names, condescend, patronize or attempt to make me feel stupid. Say what you have to say, share your ideas, offer your counterpoints, but be intelligent and congenial about it.

THAT’S the contract.

Writers’ pictures are generally affixed so you can see they’re real people. Treat us that way. Be decent, for God’s sake. Because, in most cases, that hard-working writer you’re busy flinging poop at is a decent person too. And there’s just no call for all the mess.

LDW w glasses

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As We Embrace 2013: My Top Seven Points Of Facebook Etiquette

info vs wisdom
I love social media. Regardless of the list of complaints I read every day on Facebook; in spite of the articles about privacy erosion, ad tracking, and all the rest, I happen to love the connectedness, the interaction, the sheer volume and creativity of sharing that goes on there. Without Facebook in particular (though I did love Twitter during the presidential debate season!), I would know less about my extended family and friends, would miss amazing events going on in my city, would be less in the loop of the cultural and political zeitgeist, and would not have been able to reach out to the widening and always welcome group of readers and subscribers who’ve come my way via social media. I always love good “conversation” on intriguing topics, it’s clearly a boon for any independent artist, and whatever you think of what people may post there, it’s an entertaining, thought-provoking and educational “community bulletin board” I personally love accessing from day to day.

But. I know…always a “but.”

There have been many comments posted about what Facebook “is supposed to be,” particularly during this very political election year. I’ve heard from some bemoaning the saturation of political articles and discussion; one friend even exhorted fellow group members to “PLEASE use Facebook the way it was meant to be used…pictures of our kids, our vacations, that kind of stuff. I’m SO SICK OF POLITICS!!”

To which I say….hmmm.

My thinking: Facebook is meant to be used however you choose to use it. For some that’s exactly as the writer admonished. For others it is, in fact, the exact place to post and ponder politics. For still others it’s about enlightenment via inspiring text, images, and artwork. Personally, I love the mix; I wouldn’t want my Facebook experience to be limited to only one thing. When I scroll down the newsfeed I actually enjoy the anticipation about what I might stumble upon; it’s oddly like going to Costco and wandering down the aisles never knowing what’s going to be there or what might grab my attention! A great, big, interesting mess of different items with different points and purposes and I can choose what I want to look at depending on my mood in the moment. How cool is that?

But what to do if someone in your group posts too much of something you don’t want to look at? It’s not hard: Hide their posts, change the setting and filters on what of theirs shows up on yours; delete them from your newsfeed or…delete them all together. It’s all within your grasp to make Facebook work for you. Rather than get overwhelmed or annoyed, design your experience as you see fit. That’s part of the fun.

(Of course, deleting or hiding anything of mine is so not recommended. 🙂

And what about etiquette? I bring this subject up at this particular moment because we’re days away from the new year, and the turn of the calendar always seems a good time to reset the button, refresh the window, restart the engines (dear God, please stop); and yes…turn the page. To better behavior, more productive action; a new way of looking at things. And as I took note this morning of a particular “friend” who constantly posts about his gigs, his CDs, his radio play, etc., but never, EVER, takes a moment to comment on, share, respond to, or even “like” the posts of anyone else that I can see, I decided today was the day to make some “refresh points” about Facebook etiquette. Read, absorb, and if so moved, add any of your own in the comments section below. These are not in any particular order of importance; just the ones I see as most useful in terms of making my personal Facebook – and maybe yours – a richer, more reciprocal experience.

1. Musicians: Don’t use Facebook as your personal billboard. We love knowing about your gigs, CDs, awards, etc., but without reciprocation – commenting on the posts of others, responding to comments left on your own posts, answering private messages of support left in your FB message box, sharing the posts of others, or just clicking “like” (how easy could that be??) on things unrelated to YOU YOU YOU –  you’ve made Facebook your exclusive, personal billboard. And that one-sidedness gets old for the rest of us.

It also doesn’t allow those in your FB group to get any sense of you as a person, as someone who can see outside your own world to be interested in someone else’s, and that works against you. It makes you seem self-absorbed and narcissistic. Believe me, I’m going to be more interested in your work, in supporting that work, if you’re a person engaged with others; a person who steps outside of yourself long enough to be interested in what someone else is doing or sharing. You know how politicians kiss babies, shake hands, make direct eye contact, and stop by coffee shops to engage one-on-one with people? That’s done to create personal connection, which makes people feel closer to the politician shaking their hand and…yes, more likely to vote for them. So even if you can’t find it within yourself to authentically reciprocate on Facebook for the purest of reasons, do so because it’s going to ultimately work for your public relations. People will like you better. You’ll make connections beyond slapping your gig dates up every week. And please don’t say you’re “too busy”; if you have time to bombard us with all your posts and invitations, you have time to reciprocate. If you truly don’t, make the time. It’s just good form.

2. Writers, Artists, Photographers, Actors, Filmmakers, Business Owners, Group Leaders, etc.:  see and apply #1.  I post a lot. Because I write a lot, I do a lot with my photography, I post a lot. I do so because I want to share, get feedback, encourage you to enjoy and pass around my work. But I also spend a lot of time commenting, sharing, liking, reading, and perusing the work of others. Your work. Your posts. I enjoy that process as much as I do the posting. I like availing myself of what others see worthy of sharing. I’ve found great articles, amazing photography, interesting resources I wouldn’t have found otherwise and have even been so compelled by some things that I’ve then shared them myself. It’s not about reciprocating just for the sake of social media etiquette; there’s actual benefit…to you! You’ll likely meet some very cool new people, get to know ones you know better; you might find links or references that aid you in your own work, and you’ll become a part of the community, not just someone who the rest of us are supposed to pay attention to! Get in there. We’re not your audience; we’re your collaborators. You’ll be surprised how much more willing people are to pay attention when you return the favor.


3. Commenters: This is a big one. Learn how to do it. I have a public profile; I’ve chosen that setting because I want to reach as many readers, music and photography lovers, culturally and politically interested people as I possibly can. Having a public profile means that many of the people who comment on my threads are people I don’t personally know. Don’t presume I do and make the judgment that I have really weird friends, please. Some of the people who subscribe to my posts may very well be weird. But all the same rules apply, whether you’re my cousin or a subscriber from Dubai:

  •  Civility is required. Without question. I’m not interested in name-calling and personal bashing of any kind. Speak your piece as candidly as you wish, but speak to the issues; don’t attack other commenters and keep your personal attacks on the parties being debated to yourself or to your own page. (i.e., you can slam Romney’s politics but I have no interest in hearing that “he’s a fucked up Mormon asshole.” You can think Obama is a socialist Muslim but since he’s not, keep it off my page. Certainly feel free to share those types of comments on your own threads, on your own page, but understand I’m not interested and will delete them.)
  • READ THE ARTICLE YOU’RE COMMENTING ON! Major one for me. I can always tell when people are commenting without reading the piece, particularly if they admonish me or make suggestions about something I “should have said” when I actually addressed that exact item in what I wrote. While I always appreciate anyone taking the time to comment, whether on Facebook or the comments section of an actual article, using my piece as a springboard to spout your opinion without the courtesy of actually reading what I wrote is…disrespectful. I take a lot of time to write thoughtful, cogent, hopefully intriguing pieces; if you choose to comment on them, thank you, but please do me the service of reading what I wrote before you do.
  • Please don’t hijack a comment thread on one topic by suddenly bringing up another, unrelated, topic that gets the next batch of comments off on a weird tangent. Particularly when the thread is filled with thoughtful, passionate comments from people who really do want to discuss the topic at hand. If you want to extrapolate beyond the point of the post, share it on your page with the unrelated comment you’d like to make.
  • If you have nothing useful to say, DON’T LEAVE A COMMENT. I’ve had to delete a few regular commenters from my threads because they repeatedly leave inane, pointless, even vile comments that offer nothing to the conversation. While I’ll leave opposing views, debating views, contrary views (presuming they’re suitably civil!), I will delete stupid shit, to put it bluntly.
  • Be thoughtful in your comments. Beyond civility and usefulness, there’s really no point in just parroting the same, weary partisan bromides, thread after thread. Thread conversations on my page are usually about significant topics of great importance to people; take the time to offer something thoughtful and illuminating. I’m less interested in agreement than considered, honest, even researched contribution. If you’re on the other side of my aisle, don’t just be contrary or combative. Offer something insightful, sane and potentially thought provoking from the other side. Makes for a much more meaningful contribution.
  • That’s my list…do you have any others?

4. Mix up your posts. I’ve already covered the “make Facebook what you will” theory, but there is one part of the complaint that has merit. Which, to my way of thinking, is this: certain people become too predictable.  Not just musicians, artists, etc., promoting their work, but others who tend to ONLY post one type of thing, typically political pieces expounding on their side of the political divide. When you see their name, you know what you’re going to get. If you share their politics, it can be a good read; if you don’t, you skip on by. But what if you, the poster, are more interesting than just that? What if you’re missing out on engaging FB folks who’d add richness to your conversation but instead walk on by because they think they know what you’re saying without even looking? You are on Facebook for the point of sharing, so don’t limit your audience by being so predictable! Mix it up. Surprise us with something we wouldn’t expect from you. Post about your politics, certainly (we all know I do!), but then surprise us with a piece about music, your favorite ice cream truck, or an amazing person from Africa who discovered a new species of bug. SURPRISE US! It keeps you fresh and us interested.

5. Be Present and RECIPROCATE. If it seems I’ve already covered this, there’s a nuance here that bears stating. If you’re on Facebook but not participating, ask yourself why you’re there. Frankly, I don’t understand people who sign up, put up a Facebook page, “friend” lots of people, then never contribute or post…ever. I’ve had more than one person tell me they “like looking at everyone else’s stuff but don’t really want to post anything of my own.” Really? Don’t we call that stalking? Or voyeurism? 🙂 Obviously this is not remotely earth-shattering and is, as my son would say, a “first world problem,” but the point of social media is being “social.” It’s about connecting and participating in the greater social community created by Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, etc. If you’ve taken the steps required to sign up, build a page and accrue some friends, can I make a suggestion? Participate. Jump in. Say hello once in a while. Click “like” as a default position of participation (really, could anything be easier than the “like” button??). If you’ve sent a “friend” request and I’ve “friended” you, or you’ve accepted a request of mine, come on…PARTICIPATE. Don’t just peek over the fence and offer nothing to the conversation. You climbed onto the Facebook hayride for a reason; figure out how to use it. But if, ultimately, all you really want to do is peruse other people’s links, posts, pictures and stories…OK. But at least take the nanosecond required to click “like” when you’ve read or viewed something that you…liked. It’s quiet participation, but it still counts and those who get those clicks will appreciate them, I promise.

6. Thank you, but NO Poking, Games, Applications, “Please Make This Your Status For One Hour If You Care,” Facebook Privacy notices, etc. This is personal request of mine, though I know others share it. I use Facebook in all ways I’ve laid out here. What I don’t use it for are things I’m not interested in or think have merit. Poking, games, applications, birthday calendars aren’t my thing; please don’t take it personally, but if you “poke” me, send an invitation to a game or application, or even send posts that require I join something to open them, I’m not going to participate. Sorry. Also, those “Please make this your status for an hour if you care” postings are just guilt inducing. If you wish to post something for an hour, great. But please don’t imply that I don’t care if I don’t. I usually do care. But I won’t post them. As for Facebook privacy notices, warnings, etc.: if you believe a Facebook privacy warning or notice is worth sharing and request that I and others pass it around, please check first to ascertain whether or not it’s bona fide. Almost 99.9% of times it’s not and it’s just a big waste of everyone’s time, including yours. If you can remember these items here in #6, wonderful; if you forget, please don’t take it personally when I reject the invitation or don’t respond.

7. Public Profile Friend Requests: This applies to me specifically but it bears making a point. If I get a friend request from a “public person” I don’t know, particularly one who has no “mutual friends,” I am going to look at your Facebook page before I click “confirm.” While I welcome people from all over the world, with varying political, religious and cultural beliefs and norms, I’m going to look at your Facebook page first and if you have nothing on it, nothing “about” you, I will not confirm you as a friend. If you have a profile in a language other than English and I cannot read and understand what you’re “about,” I won’t confirm you. If you have a profile that displays Satanic, Nazi, racist, intolerant, bigoted hate-speak of any kind toward any group, religion, ethnicity, etc., I will not confirm you. I will only confirm you if you have a fully realized Facebook page and you seem like a basic, decent person. Of course, if your contributions later proves that to be untrue, well…you know what happens then.

So there you go, that’s my list of the Top Seven Points of Facebook Etiquette. Please read, take to heart, without offense, and with the positive intent in which they were conferred. Social media is an amazing tool, a profound point of exchange, and a really fun, engaging way to connect with each other. Let’s all try to do it in a way that makes it as positive and rich as experience as it can possibly be…particularly in the bright, shiny new year of 2013!

Happy New Year!

LDW w glasses

Visit for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.