Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
I’ve often wondered how appropriate it is for a writer to share opinions on issues unrelated to their work. Particularly ones of a political nature. Specifically I wonder if I share too readily and express my opinion too often. Recent crises, particularly Brexit but not limited to that sequence of events, have brought this thought to my mind.
A quick look at my twitter will make my opinion on Brexit clear enough (to eradicate all doubt – it’s my personal opinion that the campaign was conceived and executed in grave error) but I’ve by no means been anywhere near vociferous about it. But any attitude that is not complete withdrawal from the public arena allows one to be open to challenge, and perhaps to respond to it. Is it right that an author attempting to build a profile on twitter ends up going down a rabbit hole of twitter rows?
There is another more serious issue, one perhaps more “exact, intimate and tribal”, to quote Heaney, i.e. closer to home. It’s the unspoken, shared knowledge that one simply does not say certain things against certain people or bodies if one wants to get on in the arts world, particularly locally. One does not criticise the way things are done, even when harm is done by those very ways. It is more important to know whom to flatter and please, whom not to alienate, than to fulfil one’s duty as an artist and go – like a fire-driven arrow – straight for the most invulnerable, protected, vested interests, in order to hurt them. As a historical novelist, I have to be careful that the history is not too recent, too local, or too concerned with those still-living.
Folk worry that the arts can be stifled by the lack of a government department. I worry more that they can be stifled by the threat of a solicitor’s letter.
The third concern is that some opinions are not vote winners for a potential readership. There are a few stances that I find personally unconscionable and commercially repellent and would be wary of anyone who expressed them, author or no. I don’t believe I hold any deal-breaking opinions, but I am always mindful of the fact that my posts reflect not only who I am, but the work I wish to see sold. That doesn’t mean that you have to be completely bland. Confronted by someone telling him that bashing a right wing politician might mean he would lose readers, Matt Haig retorted on Twitter “I just held a referendum with myself and I don’t care.” I doubt if that caused him any commercial damage at all!
However. I often think that social media is probably an unsuitable platform for me to be on for any length of time, since by nature and chemical aspects of my brain I lack reserve. And there is nothing like telling me I can not say something about something to make me really really REALLY want to say something about something!
But there is also the hazard of saying too much. If you become rent-a-ranter, always roaring about things on Twitter or Facebook, do you take away from the force of your words on the page? Do you compromise your work by sharing yourself too freely, offering your opinion too plentifully? Do you simply become…well…irritating?
What do others think?