[writing] Idiots and assholes

Apropos of nothing in particular, I was thinking of the “idiots and assholes” theory of driving while I was on my exercise bike this morning. (Yes, even cancer patients need their exercise.) That’s the idea that whatever speed you’re driving at is the one you think is right; anyone driving slower, and therefore in your way, is an idiot; anyone driving faster, and therefore tailgating you or blowing by you, is an asshole.

Mind you, this is not a theory I consciously subscribe to any more, nor have I for years, but I suspect it lurks in there somewhere. This is very much a part of human nature, sort of like the same guy who will cut you off hard on the street outside the bank will hold the door to let you in when he sees you as a human being and not as an idiot/asshole automobile in his way. This analogy has a lot of implications in Internet debates where anonymity is used as an accountability-free platform for all manner of viciousness, but that’s a topic for another time.

The thing is, if you drive a distinctive car, as I have off and on over the years, and as does now, you can’t be an idiot or an asshole, because people will recognize and remember you. In a very small and sort of strange sense, you have a brand.

Writers are the same way. With the recent releases of Pinion and The Specific Gravity of Grief, I’ve published about a million words of fiction over the past ten years. I haven’t done the math, but I’d guess I’m somewhere between one-and-a-half and two million words of blogging in the same time frame. Every last word of it, with a few very rare exceptions, under my own name. The name you’ll hear in the convention bar or in line at the bank.

Am I an idiot? On occasion. Am I an asshole? Also on occasion, though hopefully as rarely as possible. Certainly if you want to prove either thesis, all you have to do is even lightly touch the corpus of my work, and you could prove literally anything about me from written evidence. Strip off the sarcasm in some of my blog posts, and you could prove in my own words that I am a hardcore neoconservative. Strip off the humanism in some of my fiction, and you could prove in my own words that I a cast iron bastard who believes people deserve exactly what they get in life. Neither could be further from the real, nuanced truth of me, but, hey, there I am. With the tiniest bit of cherry picking and a little bit of interpretive gloss, you could just as easily prove I’m a Christian, a Communist, an activist, a reactionary: pretty much anything you wanted to. My brand is backed by a little bit of everything.

And that’s one of the risks of being a writer, of being a public person. You do have a brand. Your words speak for you. People will interpret those words how they will, with whatever needs they bring to the text in the moment. As I’ve often said, “the story belongs to the reader.” Maybe a more accurate statement is “the words belong to the reader.”

Still, it’s incumbent upon me as a decent human being to be as little of an idiot as possible, and as asshole as rarely as possible. More to the point, it’s incumbent upon me as an author to write good, interesting fiction; and as a blogger to right engaging posts.

This is not a career for the faint of heart. Unless you’re very good at either engaging with people or at ignoring them.

8 thoughts on “[writing] Idiots and assholes

  1. Sän says:

    I have a neon green mohawk with pieces of metal and circuitboard hanging out of it. I find it creates the same phenomenon as having a distinct car!

  2. Ellen Eades says:

    I have noticed in the last few years of working con committees that whenever the topic of “who shall we have as GoH” comes up, the absolute FIRST CUT is “who is not an asshole*.” In other words, if you’re a public figure and part of your career is based on public appearances, your invites will be fewer if you’re perceived as pompous, pushy, argumentative or hostile to the public. The second cut is, “who is not boring.” I hadn’t realized this about cons before working them, but I think it’s a good policy.

    *Exception that proves the rule is Harlan, who has based his career on being obnoxious; cons who invite him know that there’s an implicit caveat emptor, I think ;p

  3. Heh, Ellen. I was about to post something along the lines of, “Ummm, what about HE?” when I got to your last paragraph.

    Personally, I think the era of anonymity on the Internet will dwindle in the coming years as the erosion of privacy continues. For my part, I’ve chosen to adapt by living my life completely open. In my blog posts, my fiction, etc… I even opened up my Facebook page in reaction to all the hand wringing over their privacy policies (although I do heavily restrict who can do what with people on my Friends list).

    If I had to choose between being an idiot or an asshole though, I’d go with the latter any day. I just can’t abide idiots.


  4. Bryan Schmidt says:

    I KNEW you were a Communist…

    1. Jay says:

      From each according to his agility, to each according to his deeds.

  5. Elane Riston says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don¡¯t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading.

Comments are closed.