The Syndrome of the Long Goodbye
YOU CAN COVER A LOT OF MILES IN A ROUNDABOUT,
WITHOUT EVER GETTING ANYWHERE...
Preface: This series of somewhat self-indulgent philosophical reflections began with "Social Media Is a Highway, Not a Destination", and I am brought back in this piece to question why one writes and self-publishes on social media.
With apologies to Raymond Chandler...
Of late, writers and self-publishers on social media have been increasingly resorting to what I call "The Long Goodbye." So prevalent has the gambit become, that it qualifies, to my mind, as a syndrome, which goes like this:
A writer, frustrated by what he or she feels is insufficient reader notice and response, posts a swan song adieu to a given social media platform — or sometimes to social media in general. That goodbye post causes readers, some of whom are themselves writers and self-publishers, to voice an outpouring of sympathetic support for the nominally departing author, exhorting him or her not to give up, as his or her work is valuable and would be sorely missed. On the basis of receiving a level of response much greater than usual, the writer in question decides to soldier on.
Of course, the response is generally pure social media. It is, for the most part, a flood of Inspidipity, often from people who have not spent much, if any time reading the writer's work. And although it may be salve for the author's ego, it is, I submit, corrosive of his or her character and writer's soul. For it encourages mistaking shallow support for genuine engagement. With the result that the supposedly departing writer misses the exit from the roundabout and either continues back from whence that writer came, or continues around the roundabout again... and again... and again, ad infinitum.
Genuine engagement embodies Yin and Yang...
Do not misunderstand. I am neither saying nor implying that the dance of The Long Goodbye is premeditated. I have no doubt that the emotions expressed are legitimate — most of the time, anyway. What I am saying is that genuine intellectual engagement necessarily embodies the Yin and Yang of give and take, appreciation and criticism.
To be sure, a writer can find gratification in many things. For example in sales, if one is a professional writer. Several pros with whom I am acquainted couldn't care less about reviewer accolades or reader endorsements, as long as sales are good, and revenues keep flowing in.
Certainly, ghost writers have to come to terms with the lack of public acclaim, since the very nature of ghost writing is to provide work, the authorship of which is, by contractual arrangement, claimed by someone else. But again, ghost writers write for pay that is, and should be sufficient compensation.
Writers and self-publishers on social media, however, are more often driven by other than a quest for hard cash. Some are building a "personal brand" (whatever that means) in the service of marketing services they additionally offer. Some write and publish as part of an online marketing effort on behalf of a business, either their own or someone else's.
There is no doubt that some — indeed, more than you might think — are driven by a need to be existentially validated in the notice of others. Personally, I perceive a lot of that in the spate of writing that we see about authors' personal problems and failings, and first-person pieces about how those authors overcame the problems and failings in question. All followed by a pregnant pause awaiting applause and a gush of me-too-s. Kind of like online group therapy.
As any therapist will tell you, therapy is about the person who is the subject of the therapy. It is not about the therapist or about others. Group therapy is not, to my mind, much different. Each participant brings his or her own self-centered point of view to the table, and the expressions of mutual support are, for the most part, simply verbal jogging in place, whilst waiting politely for the chance to speak about oneself.
In case you haven't noticed, I am not big on group therapy, offline or online — notwithstanding that it may be of emotional help to some. Nevertheless, keep in mind that I am concerned here not with the soothing of one's emotional psyche, but with the growth and strengthening of intellect. And moreover, with what drives and feeds the "authentic writer."
Authenticity is forged by heavy blows, not by feather-light pats on the back...
I personally believe that writers worth their salt do not seek or find gratification in the run-of-the-mill likes and comments found on social media. To the contrary, I submit that dyed-in-the-wool writers find their satisfaction in the stimulation they provide to the exchange and growth in the thoughts and opinions of their readers. Even when at the same time entertaining those readers with fiction, comedy, or poetry.
Which brings me to a key point about authors. No author writes strictly for him- or herself. I don't care a whit that some writers may say they don't care about being read. For if that were really true, such writers would journal only, and never publish.
Genuine writers write to be read...
However, writing to be read is not the same as catering to the whims and tastes of the "insipid majority". Writing to be read — and to stimulate, educate, and engage — is not the same as using click-bait titles to pump up "views". Or using "sexy" feature photos to lure the drooling knuckle-draggers.
There are those who proclaim loudly they write for themselves, audience be damned. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who counsel "creating content" strictly in accord with what is "trending" on social media. But it is in between these two extremes where the genuine writers live. — Phil Friedman
Authors Notes: This piece is the fifth in a series of philosophical reflections which I've dubbed "The Road Chronicles" because they are organized around the metaphor of travel along a road. If you would like to read one or more of the previous installments of the series, they can be found at:
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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.
Text Copyright 2016 by Phil Friedman — All Rights Reserved
Images Credits: Phil Friedman, FreeDigitalPhotos.net, and Google Images
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