About That Internet

Dame Lili
Dame Lili
I see a lot of new writers abusing the Internet, or being abused by it, nowadays. So, in the vein of Jordan Summers’s recent Dame For A Day post, I thought I’d weigh in about various pitfalls of that lovely, wonderful timesuck.

I was amused and horrified to read about what Jordan calls “Internet authors”–writers who write around their Internet time, not the other way around. I was even more horrified when I took a hard look at my own Internet usage and…erm, well, yeah. (Truth hurts, doesn’t it, Lili?) So I got out that writer’s best friend, the kitchen timer, and put myself on a strict schedule. Timer rings, I’m off the Net, even if I haven’t “finished.” This forces me to get important correspondence done and the daily blog post out, and leaves me just a few minutes for surfing, say, the Comics Curmudgeon or I Can Has Cheezburger. (Not to mention playing on Twitter…)

There’s nothing like a timer to concentrate one’s mind and priorities. At least, so I’ve found.

There’s something else I want to talk about when it comes to the Net, though, and it’s social networking. No, this is not a paean to the wonders of Facebook or a gushing about how one should really get on Twitter. No, this is about a little thing called asymmetrical follow.

Asymmetric follow happens because on sites such as Goodreads and Facebook, once I am “friended” with someone, I have little control over what gets sent to me. Yes, I can see their profile and there’s good things about being “friended,” but I also have to wade through a bunch of invitations, events, and other stuff on a daily basis. If I followed up on all the invitations I get on Facebook, I’d have literally no time for writing.

This is a bad thing.

I’ve ended up using Twitter more regularly because I can control what I see through Tweetdeck. To put it bluntly, I tend to follow industry professionals, fellow authors, and people I know out here in meatspace. I don’t follow everyone who follows me, nor do I intend to. I am not required to follow anyone who follows me, really; that’s not what I use the service for. I do read my @replies and engage in conversations with fans on Twitter, but if I followed everyone who asked the service would lose a great deal of its usefulness for me. Asymmetrical follow is a fact of life, and the passive-aggressive behavior of some folks who think they’re “owed” a follow or a friending (because obviously I exist to fulfill their needs, not to write books or have a life) just makes me turn away.

I engage on sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, even the Deadline Dames and my own blog, for a reason. And that reason is not to fill up my time or stroke someone’s ego–not even my OWN ego. I maintain a presence on MySpace and Facebook for my dear Readers, on Goodreads because I like to get book recommendations as well as track my reading. I’m on Twitter for two reasons: to have conversations with industry professionals and friends, and to give fans a little more of a “personal” relationship with my public self as an author. Here at the Deadline Dames I’m supporting fellow authors, centralizing promo opportunities, and enhancing another aspect of my public self as an author.

My personal blog is really not quite that personal. I’m careful what I put up there, because it’s about (you guessed it) my public self as an author. I don’t blog about certain aspects of my personal life. I don’t post pictures of my children or the real names of my friends and family, because that’s an infringement on their privacy and safety. The website is my public face, and I don’t want egg or mud on it.

I see a lot of authors treating their websites like their living rooms. Which would be fine–except they forget that other people come in and look around. The living room is the room you invite guests–fans and the curious–into. You can walk around naked in your living room if you like–but do you want to do it when you’ve got company over? More grief and Internet wank comes from this than from just about anything else.

Authors and industry “professionals” sometimes forget that the Internet is public. Even when you set your posts on Livejournal, Blogger, or your own website to “private,” whatever you’ve written is out there on a server somewhere. It’s like giving the key to your diary to someone else to hold. If you trust that person, fine. But can you trust a blogging site? Murphy’s Law and the nature of the Internet tells me that it’s perhaps not wise.

It’s one thing to make an ill-considered public statement and deal with the fallout. It’s another thing to bare your soul (or your metaphysical boobies) in a public venue and deal with the fallout. I’ve seen a lot of authors treat their blogs, whether on their sites or on a platform like LiveJournal, as if it’s their diary and say things that should be kept behind the vest. Then, when all hell breaks loose, they feel violated. Then there’s the entertaining trainwreck of authors blogging about their sex lives, marriages, personal peccadilloes or vendettas in the industry–and being surprised when it explodes in their face or the fans get disgusted.

One of the most important things I learned in massage school was the principle of dual relationships. When I was practicing massage therapy, my relationship with my clients was simple: client/massage therapist. If a client invited me, for example, to a barbecue, I could make the call whether or not I wanted to add another relationship: friend/friend. It was hardly ever advisable to do so, but if I did, I had to be clear about which relationship I was in at any given moment and what the boundaries were. This saved trouble and heartache, and it was the professional thing to do.

That system of thought has stood me in good stead ever since. When my writing partner is critiquing me, we have a professional and well-defined relationship. When we’re kibbitzing over wine at our favorite Thai restaurant, we have a personal, friendly, and no less well-defined relationship. When I work at the bookstore, my boss is also my friend–but when she puts the “boss” hat on, I have the “employee/volunteer” hat on, and that relationship is, you’ve guessed it, well-defined. We make it clear what relationship we’re in at any given moment, and it cuts down on troubles and misunderstandings.

This is a skill we hardly ever bother to teach teenagers, or tell them they’re going to need. It would do the adults they turn into a world of good.

On my personal blog, I’m paying for the bandwidth and I have a comment policy. But I also have a professional relationship with my readers. I am there to provide content, not just to moan about my cat’s hairballs. On Twitter, I am providing content–or trying to do so, anyway. (My ideas of “content” on Twitter are a LOT looser than on my blog.) But there are well-defined boundaries to the relationship I have with my Readers on my blog, on Twitter, on Facebook–just about anywhere online. Those boundaries keep me intact and reasonably un-embarrassed, though I am just as prone to making an ill-considered statement as the next person. Thinking about, having, and sticking to those boundaries saves me a great deal of trouble and grief.

And remembering that the Internet is public can save other writers a lot of grief.

‘Nuff said.