Thursday, August 2, 2012

the writer and self-control

"Enthusiasm is the vital quality that arouses you to action, while self-control is the balance wheel that directs your action so that it will build up and not tear down."
The next lesson in the Law of Success sequence is self-control, and it couldn't have come at a better time. A friend and fellow author recently wrote a blog post about her experience with a reader who unfriended her on Facebook because he believed that, as a published author (meaning, as someone with a public persona), it wasn't her place to be political. I disagreed with his stance for several reasons, but there is a caveat, a reminder that the internet is "written in ink," and leaves a fingerprint.

What we say and do, and how we conduct ourselves, makes a lasting impression. And that goes for anyone in any profession. We have to be professional. We have to be responsible with our words and our action. Self-control isn't about restraint, it's about integrity.

Participating in civil discourse is vital to being a writer. There's nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on a personal page, be it political, religious, or literary. As writers, we are witness to the world around us. We need to be observers as well as participants if we are to do our job well. If we want to write about things we care about, we have to find out what those things are. We have to expose ourselves to things we don't know, don't like, don't agree with, don't believe in in order to figure out what we do know, do like, do agree with, and do believe in. And these things change over time.

In other words, we need people to disagree with us in order to strengthen what we believe so we can make the best argument (something I tried to instill in my first-year students). The key words in the above quote, the ones Hill didn't italicize, were "build up and not tear down." ("Balance" is also an important word.) Discourse and debate in this country have become destructive--they tear down rather than builds up. We seek to do the former. We seek to build up. We seek to construct.

Napoleon Hill goes on to say this:
"A person with well-developed self-control does not indulge in hatred, envy, jealousy, fear, revenge, or any similar destructive emotions. A person with well-developed self-control does not go into ecstasies or become ungovernably enthusiastic over anything or anybody."
(I think that last bit means stalkers need not apply.)
Writers, of all people, know that words carry integrity. It's how we express our opinions that matter, and how we treat others in the discourse.

We don't spam discussion forums, don't bombard people's Twitter and Facebook feeds with "Buy My Book!" all day, every day.
We don't camp outside an agent's office in an attempt to be represented, or send bottles of champagne to reviewers in hopes they'll offer a favorable review.
We don't pick fights with readers who write bad reviews.
We don't publicly trash other authors or genres. (We can have opinions about the quality of writing that disagree with others', and we can express them, but we can do so in a way that keeps our author ethos intact.)
We don't use ad hominem, strawman, and other logical fallacies to attack rather than argue. 

I want to clarify that I'm not advocating for writers go out of their way to not offend anyone. If I believe an injustice is taking place, then I speak out against that injustice, even if it means I lose readers along the way. Because speaking out about the things I believe in is just as vital to my integrity as the manner in which I speak out. If I clam up for fear of losing book sales, then I've lost much more.

Overall, I cannot sacrifice good citizenship for good sales.