Today’s question comes from Reader MJ:
You’ve written about the addictive nature of the internet and its dangers to serious writing (and to authors themselves). I’d like to ask about a variation on that topic. How valuable is social interaction to you as a writer, and what part does the internet play in that social interaction? Do you have interactions there you can’t/don’t have face to face, or is the internet the last place you can just “be yourself”?
First off, disclaimer. The Internet is different things to different people. I am not sure I am normal in many ways, especially when it comes to social interaction. That being said, I’ll answer as best I can.
I am not a social person. Social gatherings or even dealing with the public is highly problematic for me. I’m even phobic about my phone, for Chrissake. Working retail was an endless nightmare for me. And don’t even get me started on office politics…
I like email because it gives me a bit of necessary distance between me and what another person wants. Growing up in a family where one’s boundaries were constantly trampled and survival depended on anticipating as best one could, the implication that someone needs something from me is high-stress. I like to save my limited energy and time for interaction for my close friends and family, because there is so little of both.
I am an extraordinarily solitary person. I’m not as bad as Bukowski, but I need stretches of time alone. Being essentially a single mother and the “safe place” for various friends means I have to be vigilant about my solitary time, and make sure to get it in so I don’t have nerve endings sparking like exposed wires. (This makes me, as you can imagine, So Not Fun To Be Around.)
So, social interaction is on the one hand immensely valuable to me as a writer–because I am writing about people, and I observe them endlessly whenever I can–and on the other hand, not so valuable and maybe even actively harmful, because a lot of times people drain me.
The thing that’s valuable to me on the Internet is that I can control my response time. The slight bit of distance and time between receiving an email etc. and the time I answer it provides me with a crucial hairsbreadth in which to consider the situation. To me, a lot of online interaction is safer, and it’s the only way I have of communicating with my fans. Let’s face it–I’m pretty poor. I’m supporting four people and the cats on my writing, and I don’t have extra for childcare. This is partly why I don’t visit a lot of conventions or do a lot of signings–I simply can’t afford the cash outlay.
The Internet has allowed me to have a personal relationship with my readers in a way that would not have been possible before. And it provides me the distance I need in several social interactions, a distance that keeps me from descending into being a twitching ball of self-destructive nerves.
I don’t have interactions on the Internet that make it “easier” for me to “be myself.” For one thing, I’m 33 now. I am myself, and I think I am only going to become more so. (It’s about damn time.) There are certain aspects of the Internet–chat, for example–that I don’t use because there are parts of myself I don’t want to share, as a public person. So my Internet use is curtailed by the idea that I am a public person, and the anonymity of the Web can be pretty flimsy. This is a curtailment I take gladly, because the benefits the Web offers vastly outweigh any pain I might feel at the loss of things I might want to do.
I am friends with a lot of people–my beta reader, the mods on my forum, fellow authors–who I would have never met without the Internet. So, as far as a wider acquaintance pool to draw friends from, the Internet has really worked for me. On the other hand, there’s been a lot of stalking and bad behavior I’ve been subjected to because of–you guessed it–the Internet. Again, the benefits far outweigh the dangers, especially when some simple precautions can ameliorate the dangers.
Still, there is no real substitute for going to a public place, settling down with a coffee or a bottle of water, and watching people. Writers are chronicling the human condition, and you can’t do that without observation of humans–yourself included. I’ve written elsewhere about the benefits of observation, but observation is not quite social. It requires a little bit of standing apart, and in that sense all writers are outsiders.
But to get back to the point, the social interactions on the Web have been very good to me, especially considering my gracelessness in face-to-face social interactions. The crucial little bit of distance gives me time to collect myself before I say/do something. (Sometimes I don’t use that space, but hey, nobody’s perfect.) For someone who is intrinsically a hermit and pretty introverted (despite giving a different impression when I set my mind to it) it is a godsend.
And now, for the giveaway! To celebrate the Dames release week madness, I am giving away two signed copies of Redemption Alley, the latest Jill Kismet book. To win, all you have to do is comment on this post before midnight on Saturday, August 1. Winners will be chosen with the help of Random.org. Please note that I can only send books to US addresses. Sorry about that.