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The Internet's A Stage

I am always super-nervous about events. Not the bit where I stand up and people look at me and I talk about being an idiot and also about my books. I love talking, especially about my books! The part that makes me nervous is the bit where I meet people, and these worries arise: oh-my-goodness-they-came-to-see-me-how-do-I-make-this-worth-their-while, I-have-awful-face-recognition-skills-what-if-we-met-before, if-they-have-something-to-say-to-me-I-want-to-hear-it-but-I-do-not-want-to-make-them-feel-awkward-with-pauses. It is nerve-wracking, because I am super-grateful to anyone who reads my books and comes to my appearances, and I want to not let them down!

As I like people, especially people who read books, and I want to meet them and say thank you to them, I am always even more happy than I am nervous. And I figure when people meet me, they see a person, and if the person blithers the wrong thing at them, it's not the end of the world. Though I'll try to blither the right thing next time.

On the flip side, being on the internet means that you can't see a person. (What insight, everyone murmurs. The woman's a genius.)

I feel nervous about being on the internet, too. Over the last year, I've found myself wanting to put up blog posts, and not putting them up. Partly this is because--time management skills? What is this 'time' that you speak of?--Partly it's because I've been sad, and being sad makes for sucky blog posts. 'Contemplated ceiling. Felt cranky about ceiling. What are you looking at, ceiling?' (Gripping stuff.)

Part of it has been about being a writer on the internet, though, and what that means.

I never thought it would mean much. I realise, say, Stephenie Meyer gets it in the neck on the internet. People make assumptions about her beliefs, discuss what she looks like, and so forth. Which I bet is awful for Stephenie Meyer. She is also very rich, and millions of people love and are made happy by what she does! It is a trade: being famous and successful means lots of excellent stuff and lots of terrible stuff. People see you differently.

I am not talking about being famous, for I am not famous and I have no idea what that is like! (For the record, while I would totally take being famous if it was offered me, because--lots of people loving my books!--I imagine I would cope with it badly. Since I find tasks like 'brushing my hair every day' a little much for me. Kudos, Stephenie Meyer, your hair always looks great!)

But just 'being a writer on the internet' is sometimes kind of a complicated proposition. Ilona Andrews puts it best here, in a post which I've linked to before but it bears repeating because it's awesome! This is the relevant bit: 'You stop being a person and become a representative of your books... It’s a bit difficult to readjust, because you yourself haven’t changed.'

Stopping being a person really resonates with me. Other people's perception of me is different.

On one of the short stories I put up on the blog, I asked people not to tell me about not reading the books in that particular post, because, well, I wanted the short story to be a celebration of the books and for fans of the books, and I was worried about how the new book was doing and didn't want to worry more. And a couple of people said 'Explain this request of yours!' and I was like 'Because... my feelings? I would prefer if you didn't... hurt them?' Now, my feelings are not, like, super-important. No more so than anyone else's! Nobody should lie about anything to spare them. I very strongly feel people shouldn't worry about the author's feelings when critiquing a book, for instance. But... I have feelings, obviously! They motivate me to do and want things. It was a strange feeling (there's that word again) to realise that me having feelings hadn't occurred to someone.

I once saw someone I knew a little online discussing how surprised they were that I'd say I didn't like the TV show Supernatural, as if I shouldn't have done it, and got a shock because it had never occurred to me that expressing my personal preferences in TV would hurt my books.

I once saw someone saying that they were irked at me for saying I was surprised people didn't realise a character was gay in a book where said character checked out someone of the same gender. I am still surprised, but it made me go 'Should I have qualified that more--should I have talked about the dangers of not being very explicit, or society's perceptions, or about how it's a complicated issue--was I accidentally gross, what did I say specifically?'

I bring this up to note that when I say something stupid now, it's not 'Sarah says something stupid, hopefully she will wise up soon' but 'A writer thinks this stupid thing, is stupid and wrong-thinking.' Which is not always comfortable.

It is not all about my feelings. But my feelings... um... exist, and sometimes they make stuff like blogging difficult.

Being online (blogging, tweeting, facebooking, singing songs on youtube--I have never done that, because I have the singing voice of a mournful vulture, arriving too late to eat any entrails) is this weird mix of the professional and personal.

I've seen people online saying 'I'm a Sarah Rees Brennan fan, I've never read her books' and that seems odd to me, like me saying 'I'm a big Taylor Swift fan, I've never heard her songs.' Taylor Swift is a singer: I'm a writer. It's totally fine to read the blog--or to generally approve of, I don't know, my face--and not read the books. For instance, I like jimhines's blog, but I haven't read his books. (Though I plan to, because I like his blog!) It's just that it knocks me for six a bit, leaving me wondering uneasily 'What is it they're a fan of...?' and 'But part of the blog is meant to make people want to read the books... what am I doing wrong?' Result: paranoia.

I've also seen people saying something along the lines of 'Sarah Rees Brennan let me down.' With... my books? Because of something I said? Because... they're my mother, and I totally forgot to pick up pie? (Get off the internet, Mum! Also I'm sorry. I'll bring you pie.) Sometimes there's no way to know! And I'm always sorry to hear it. I don't want to let anybody down! It's weird to know you can let strangers down. I'm like 'I'll do better!' But 'doing better' is never going to be 'doing perfectly.' Result: paranoia.

There's also a way for people to 'punish' you, once you're a writer: not read your books. I use quotation marks for punish, because zillions of people around the world are not reading my books, and that does not mean that zillions of people have picked me up, put me on the naughty mat and said sternly 'Now Sarah, think about what you've done. Also, no supper for you, young lady.'

There are a majillion (I use very scientific terms) reasons not to read my books: saw 'em on the shelves and didn't fancy the cover or description, totally scared of demons, never read teen books, never read books written by girls, never heard of them, just don't feel like it, whatever. But people will announce they're not reading your books because of something you did. Which: fair enough. I don't read Orson Scott Card's books because I disagree with his views on gay rights, and that substantial a disconnect between our minds makes me worry I'll find myself reading something that upsets and offends me. Reading is for entertainment: if you don't think you'll be entertained, don't read!

But announcing it to the writer feels a bit different. I had a fight on twitter with someone telling me that because they liked my blog, they might give my books a look one day--but maybe not, because we were having this disagreement. Of course, I didn't say 'Never mind that then! You're right! Pleeeeeeeease read my books, kind sir or madam!' But it did cross my mind, the next time I thought 'Shall I express my opinion on a subject?' Since of course I want people to read my books: I don't want something I say to get in the way of that. Result: paranoia.

There's also the online disinhibition effect, whereby people will say stuff online they would never, ever say in person. It goes twice for writers, insofar as I've noticed: people will say stuff about your character, or Lord forbid your looks (you may have heard that I'm no pixie ;)), about your friends, about your religion. Result: paranoia.

I could sit around listing off other reasons to be paranoid. I'm only using things that have happened to me, and in fairly accessible internet-places like my blog and twitter, and fairly low-key stuff. I've seen loads of other stuff: people saying a writer should be drowned, or slapped in the face, or discussing their significant others/marital status/chances of acquiring same, or threatening their pets: I'm purposely not bringing up really upsetting things, because I hope we can all agree death threats = never okay! And not something that can be discussed calmly. (For the record on death threats: yes, I have got some.)

There are times when I want to say something about feminism, about a holiday with my friends, about race issues or gay issues, about book piracy, about publishing, about my hair, about anything, really, and I think 'Do I have the time and the emotional wherewithal to deal if I say something on the internet, and a lot of people tell me I suck?' And sometimes the answer is 'Why, no!'

Being a writer is necessarily going to be a public endeavour. Your books are available to the public, and public opinion of them will mean you have a job later, or you don't! A writer's blog on the world wide web is... also a public thing (they give you a hint with the words 'world wide web'), and also tied in with your books, and your audience.

Selling my books is not the only reason I write my blog, though it is a big part: gaining new and keeping old readers is awesome. But I had a blog for years before I ever had books to sell, though I always talked about my writing on it, because... it's always been an important part of my life.

This is not a post about how dreadful it is to be a writer, or to blog. If it was dreadful, I'd stop. I love writing my books: it is one of the great joys of my life. And I like writing my blog! I want to talk about my life on my blog, I want to talk about the stuff I believe in, the books I'm reading and the thoughts I'm thinking. Also I want to talk about TV and stuff I think is hilarious. As regards my books, I want to have an online presence so I can talk to more readers than I could otherwise, because that means something to me. But none of this is totally easy.

And that's what all this boils down to, really: a list of reasons why I haven't been blogging that much, why it's complicated, and why I want to blog more, too. I think I will.

Comments

( 145 comments — Leave a comment )
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archangelbeth
Oct. 12th, 2011 01:37 am (UTC)
Please don't be too paranoid. You write a great blog. I would read even the "cranky about ceiling" posts!
sarahtales
Oct. 12th, 2011 01:38 am (UTC)
People may blame you if I take this as a challenge, and start recording my daily cranky. ;)

'Dear Livejournal, toaster burned my toast. Toaster is now nemesis. Then knife fell out of honey jar. Can't have two nemeses! Systems failure.

... Somehow I will destroy them both.'
(no subject) - spiffikins - Oct. 12th, 2011 01:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - katelinnea - Oct. 12th, 2011 01:51 am (UTC) - Expand
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snowqueenofhoth
Oct. 12th, 2011 01:54 am (UTC)
Huh. You know, I've never thought about that, either, at least where you're concerned. But I wonder if it's very different for those of us who have been reading your LJ since well before you were published and those people who are new. For me, it's certainly more like "she's an awesome person!" and then, "oh, and this awesome person wrote some awesome books!"

I guess in a way it's true that how people think of you as a person affects whether they read your work. But it can work positively as well as negatively. I'd been reading your LJ for a long time and quite enjoy your blogging style, so when you finally got published, of course I was happy to read your books as well. I generally do this (read the books of bloggers I enjoy), but I haven't actually done it in reverse (started reading blogs of authors I enjoy), so I'm not sure if it would be very different. Maybe it would be.

Hmm.

Thoughtful time! :D
sarahtales
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:01 am (UTC)
I have no idea. I do know the death threats mainly come from people who read before I was published who don't like me being published? So--my experience of things is not a universal or even a usual experience! I have made things difficult for myself at many turns!

Of course you're right that it's positive too, or else I wouldn't do it. Like I said, I like doing it. But it is a complicated thing, sometimes, and so I think out loud (well, on page) about it.
(no subject) - snowqueenofhoth - Oct. 12th, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
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thegreatmissjj
Oct. 12th, 2011 01:55 am (UTC)
Oh Sarah, I always get excited when you blog, from the funny stuff to the more thinky stuff.

I myself have hit a blogging rut because I have...feeeeeeeeeelings about things--about publishing, about marketing, about feminism, about race, about...things--that I don't know if I have the time, or frankly the energy (or even right!) to adequately express on my blog. Blogging used to feel cosy, a place where I could express my opinions (without reserve...well, mostly without reserve) with a group of like-minded individuals. Not quite so much anymore.

Russell T. Davies wrote in his book THE WRITER'S TALE that he often goes on the offensive when people criticize him, but then again, this was an entire book filled with very candid emails about his writing process, so you could probably say fear and/or paranoia wasn't something he was that acquainted with...

(Although he does have his dark moments and they are rather painfully on display in the book as well, but I think his brutal honesty is rather wonderful. But I am rather famous around my office for being blunt. My motto could be "Tact is an afterthought." Oops!)
sarahtales
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:13 am (UTC)
I totally get your reservations, but for the record very much enjoy your blog and will be delighted to read about your feeeeeeeeeeeeeelings when/if you do want to talk about them.
elvenjaneite
Oct. 12th, 2011 01:57 am (UTC)
This is hard to hear (as someone who would like to be a published author someday) and also helpful, in a certain way. It's also weird to me, because my brain doesn't work that way. I mean, you have said things that I disagreed with, pretty strongly, and I go, "Eh. I disagree. But I like Sarah and the books are full of awesome!" And then I go read one of the make-out scenes again. So for me, there doesn't seem to be that generalization tendency, which makes it hard for me to understand people who do have it.

tl;dr: people are silly, but you are awesome!

Also, this "I have never done that, because I have the singing voice of a mournful vulture, arriving too late to eat any entrails" made me giggle.
sarahtales
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:04 am (UTC)
Heh, thank you.

And also, feel free to disagree with me anytime! I like a debate, and I am worried this post comes off as a bit too much 'tread carefully on Sarah's delicate feelings': disagreements have changed me for the better many times, and made me think even more often. The scary thing is to engage not knowing if people will come out thinking 'this person is awful' rather than 'this person is wrong.'
(no subject) - elvenjaneite - Oct. 12th, 2011 02:21 am (UTC) - Expand
tyleet27
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
Only sort of related, but, um, I just want to let you know?
1. I always read your blog. Even if it's about something I wouldn't have said I was particularly invested in before--because you are funny, and you are passionate, and you are always interesting! I literally don't think I have missed a blog post of yours in years.

2. I read your books. I love your books.

3. In the years that I've been reading your blog, I've only rarely commented. I'm not a huge LJ poster--I tend to be more of a lurker, because of time restraints and sometimes feeling like I don't have anything to add except to say "right on." I'll often point people towards your blog posts because I think you'll have articulated an issue particularly well, or raised something that I think needs raising, in a non-intimidating way.

4. I don't think I've ever talked about your books on livejournal, or on twitter, or anywhere on the internet. I joined marmalade_fish back when it started, but, like I said, I tend to slide into lurkerdom, so don't really participate. I talk about them in person--I have about five friends or so in real life who also read your books, and we've had many fun discussions. We like them. When people ask me for YA book recommendations, I usually bring up your name.

5. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in 1, 2, 3, or 4. :) The internet tends to bring the nastiness to the surface, and sometimes the positive stuff is invisible. But it is there. Just saying. :)
(Deleted comment)
themegaloo
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
Sometimes I find you to be one of the most fascinating people on the internet. IN A GOOD WAY. BECAUSE I LIKE INTERESTING PEOPLE.
chrysoula
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:01 am (UTC)
Hi! I discovered your twitter feed after reading your books! I like your books enough that I made my husband read them!

I also think you are, and I use this word with trepidation even though it is my honest reaction, adorable on your blog. Each time I read a post of yours (which I usually do via twitter), I like the author Sarah Rees Brennan more. Often I have the reverse reaction.

...I don't really have a point, except I wanted to say that I have read your books and I like your blogging and if I met you in person I would not have expectations and would probably be shy and intimidated. You may not be famous but you are a lot more famous than me. :-)
elle_winters
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:04 am (UTC)
Hi, Sarah. I read your books. I've read your blog.

I will keep reading both. (-:

luciab
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:06 am (UTC)
I will always read your posts. I read your books because your posts got me hooked on your writing. I expect your musings about your ceilings would be fabulous. I find your writing about writing to be completely fascinating (especially since I can't write fiction at all.) And I read mostly because there is no telling when a mournful vulture might start singing about the lack of entrails and I will have to laugh my ass off.
sistermagpie
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:08 am (UTC)
I can totally understand where you're coming from--you just never know where you're going to get hit and from what direction. And when you're basically a nice person who wants people to think well of you, or at least not badly of you, it's got to be weird when suddenly somebody is mad at you and is taking it out on your books. It's got to be a really hard thing to navigate. Maybe it's easier for people who are mainly bloggers who have a persona that's what they're selling, but it's hard when you're really about writing books, which is only about you secondarily? Like you want people to connect to the characters independently of you. So you don't want to feel like you made a mistake by blogging or not blogging or blogging the wrong thing etc. Gah! It's amazing authors ever blog at all! But you should! Because you have things to say that people want to read!

p.s. I have just started Thief...
tiegirl
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:29 am (UTC)
Here from Sounis...
...and holding my breath for your thoughts on The Thief!
Re: Here from Sounis... - elvenjaneite - Oct. 12th, 2011 03:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here from Sounis... - elle_winters - Oct. 12th, 2011 03:09 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here from Sounis... - live_momma - Oct. 12th, 2011 08:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here from Sounis... - sistermagpie - Oct. 12th, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Here from Sounis... - tiegirl - Oct. 13th, 2011 12:31 am (UTC) - Expand
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Re: Here from Sounis... - tiegirl - Oct. 14th, 2011 06:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
chicleeblair
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:29 am (UTC)
I, too, would read cranky about the ceiling posts, particularly because I am newish to your books and your bling and want more of both.

Also I believe you are to be at Octocon this weekend and wanted to say have fun! I will not be there. I am in massachusetts! Where I live!

but my friend Dani runs it (long story involving Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer and me flying to Dublin from oxford for a day and us being friends forever after)! And she is awesome! and so are you.


Edited at 2011-10-12 02:30 am (UTC)
tiegirl
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:33 am (UTC)
Sarah, I found your blog somehow from Sounis, then your books. You rock! So far we agree on most things, but never fear, if we ever disagree I will let you know so we can debate, and then I'll go off and read your books and your blog some more! You know, the same way I would do in real life.

Keep on writing! (and I totes hope it's about your toastal issues. why can't there be two nemeses, again? perhaps I disagree already!)
elucreh
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:33 am (UTC)
I...can't really engage on the meat of this post, because, well, I am an unabashed and ridiculously fanatical fangirl of both your books (which...I swear I will write my enormously and embarrassingly gushy thinky-thoughts about and post, because I believe in reviewing books and should do more of it!) and of you, and it would take really scary and probably brain-tumour related changes of your stances on Pretty Much Everything Ever to make so much as tweet "Sarah Rees Brennan was only 98% awesome today."

But I want to stop up at the beginning of the post and tell you that you pull off the in-person stuff really well and I was as charmed by you then as I am online, but also felt very comfortable and safe and valued, so much so that I was glad my best friend from childhood was there witnessing my embarrassing blushy fangirlism. (This is very RARELY the case with people I meet in person and embarrassingly fangirl.)

So, you know, in my opinion, you should not worry at all.
shadeofdusk
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:38 am (UTC)
If nothing else, we seem to have similar tastes but different areas of focus (like, I don't read anywhere near as much YA), so over the years you've pointed me at quite a few books and other things that I've enjoyed that it's unlikely I would've ever picked up otherwise.

That said, I love your writing style, full stop. You have a knack for coming right up close to tropes that irritate me (jealous love triangles, arg), and then dodging them or otherwise making them ok.

And you know what, I don't really need everyone, or even every author that I read, to agree with me at all times. In general you seem to be a reasonable person who makes an effort to think carefully about things, which I think is all that can really be asked of a stranger on the internet. :shrugs: Otherwise that vein in my forehead never would stop twitching.
timeripple
Oct. 12th, 2011 02:56 am (UTC)
Well, your blog has come to mean a great deal to me over the years. :) At first I was astonished and delighted to find someone (my own age, at that! not that age is all that important! but it kind of is! look, it meant a lot to me at the time) talking about books and writing the way you do, and with such obvious glee. I met some of my favorite books thanks to you. And the way you talked about writing back then (and still do!) is certainly the reason I’ve read all your books and made other people read them.

That said, you could post about your shopping list and it would probably be hilarious. (I don’t know why I’m obsessed with shopping lists lately. I spent a full ten minutes explaining to a friend my elaborate fantasy wherein one particular author’s shopping list is probably just like that one part of “Goblin Market” where Rossetti lists all the wares in one long, luscious list, and okay, maybe I get carried away sometimes.)

Sorry to babble like this. My point, I suppose, is that should you wish to blog about feminist television toast, I would most likely find it interesting and entertaining and worthwhile.
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