Election Day is less than a month away in the U.S., and if everything goes as planned – a dicey proposition at best here in the Hellscape of 2020 – I’ll be heading downtown this afternoon to cast my ballot early. (UPDATE: It’s several hours later, and my civic duty was successfully accomplished! Take that, Forces of Darkness!) Social media has always been filled with political commentary from professionals and amateurs alike, but there’s been more of it over the last few years. A lot more. No surprise given the maniacal clusterfuck the U.S. government has become. There are voices calling for greater awareness of issues affecting women, BIPOC, and people in the LGBTQ+ community. Voices urging change. And among all these voices, you hear some writers calling for their colleagues to use their social media platforms to help bring about that change. These writers tell us that it’s our moral responsibility to speak out, that “Silence equals complicity.”
If you don’t give a damn about helping to make the world a better place, if you only care about promoting yourself and your work on social media, and to hell with everything and everyone else, then you don’t need to read any further. But if you do believe that the world is, not to put too fine a point on it, a fucking mess, and you want to do something, anything to help, will devoting a significant portion of your online presence to social media activism really accomplish much? And will sharing your beliefs result in you potentially alienating readers and losing sales, perhaps tanking your writing career? What should you do – speak out, stay quiet, something in between? (I don’t know what in between would be. Whispering about politics? Typing political comments in all lowercase letters?)
Before we go any farther, here’s where I’m coming from in terms of politics and social issues. I believe the Green New Deal, free healthcare for all, free college for all, etc., will make the U.S. a better place, but it will take some time for the country as a whole to get behind those changes to bring them into being. I think police reform is badly needed. I believe sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism – basically, any belief system that views any human as lesser than and treats them as such – is evil and needs to be eradicated, through both education and legislation. At this point, I believe that anyone who supports the current incarnation of the Republican party – not to mention Trump – whether knowingly or through ignorance is betraying what America is supposed to stand for. Trumpers would view me as raging antifa liberal, while the extreme left would view me as a useless corporate-brainwashed moderate. Keep all this in mind as I go on. It’s the lens through which I view the topic of writers taking political action on social media.
Several years ago, I became swayed by arguments that if someone – in my case, a writer – had any kind of platform, it was their responsibility to use that platform to help make the world a better place. While I was on Twitter and Instagram back then, I mostly hung out on Facebook, and I began expressing my political views and support for various causes – especially ones connected to horror, fantasy, and science fiction, such as calling for the World Fantasy Award, which had originally been created to resemble the undeniably racist author H.P. Lovecraft, to be redesigned. I was mindful of the social media marketing axiom that you should post three non-sales messages for every sales message you post in order not to drive readers away from your account. I decided to do the same with political statements so my social media presence wasn’t all politics, all the time. If I’d been a professional political commentator, it would’ve been a different story. People would have presumably followed me on social media because of my political content. But I’m a horror writer and teacher of writing, and I was mindful that people followed me for those reasons. They weren’t coming to me looking to consume political content, and I knew they didn’t want to be force fed it. So I did my best to strike a balance.
As time went by, I began to understand some things about making political statements on social media. Some of this I learned through observation of the responses to my own posts as well as the posts of others. Some I learned because people took the time to reach out to me in private messages and explain things to me.
· I was preaching to the choir. The vast majority of people following me on social media were like-minded individuals, and if they weren’t, they stopped following me. So when I made a political post, I would get a lot of likes and supportive comments from people who believed exactly as I did. While that felt good, it didn’t do any actual good. I wasn’t getting anyone to think; I wasn’t changing anyone’s minds. (At least, there was no indication that I was.)
· It would’ve been different if I was a famous author. Famous people have thousands (sometimes thousands upon thousands) of followers on social media. Famous writers may not have as many followers as someone like Taylor Swift, but they have a hell of lot more than I do. Their social media voice has a much farther reach than most of ours, and because of that, their messages are more likely to reach beyond the echo chamber that most of us dwell in on social media.
· People wanted to argue for its own sake. During those rare occasions when someone with a different political viewpoint commented on one of my posts, it wasn’t to open a dialogue. It was to argue for the sheer aggressive fun of it. I wasn’t changing anyone’s mind – not even close.
· Courting controversy gave a platform to negative voices. If I wrote a post about why it’s important to boost women in horror, for example, if anyone who strongly disagreed with me posted in return, I was inadvertently boosting their voice and giving their views a larger platform. I never would’ve realized this was happening if people hadn’t privately messaged me to explain the situation. To put it metaphorically, stirring up shit creates a stink and draws flies, and the buzzing of those flies eventually becomes so loud that it drowns out all other sound – including the voices of those I’d hoped to bring more attention to.
So what are some ways to effectively work for political and social change on social media? I doubt you’ll be surprised to learn I have a few thoughts on the matter.
· Beware Cis Het White Male Savior Complex. First off, if you are a cis het white male, be mindful that you don’t mansplain or come across as patronizing whenever you address political or social issues – and the people affected by them – online. It’s far too easy to believe, even subconsciously, that you’re a white knight (see what I did there?) riding to the rescue. You’re not a hero, you don’t know everything there is to know about politics, and you don’t know more about certain issues than people who’ve lived with those issues all their lives do.
· Of course, you don’t have to say anything political on social media. Your social media platform is yours and you can use it however you want. If you’re a private person or are uncomfortable discussing political matters in a public space, that’s okay. Or maybe being confrontational isn’t part of your personality. That’s okay too. Sure, there’s an argument (and a strong one) to be made that it’s a privilege to be able to sit out the struggle for social justice. I’m a straight cis white man. I don’t need to fight daily to try to create a world where I am considered a full, complete person with all the rights and opportunities thereof. I was born with those things. I can do my own thing and say to hell with everyone else the rest of my life and get by just fine. But if I can use my privilege to help others in any way, I want to.
· But if you want to talk about politics on social media, go for it. If you do want to help make the world a better place, talk about politics and social issues on Facebook, Twitter, in your blog, and interviews all you want. For every reader you lose because of it, you’ll gain others who share your views. How much actual good will you bring into the world because of all this talk? There’s no way to know. But if this is how you want to attempt to foster change, then do it.
· Don’t let anyone bully you into using your social media platform the way they think you should use it. There are a lot of people online who are only too eager to tell you how you should use your social media presence to achieve what they view are important goals. Some of these people will be so dedicated to their beliefs that they will attempt to pressure you into being more political on social media. There’s no harm in considering someone’s suggestions, but if someone’s trying to bully you – even if it seems to be for a good cause – fuck ‘em. Bullies are bullies. You do you.
· Don’t get swept up in a social media frenzy. It’s all too easy to learn about something awful – like a writer who’s sexually harassed many people in the horror community, to reference a recent example – and immediately be tempted to pronounce judgment (or more likely accept the judgment others are already making). If I run across an incident like this, I feel the urge to post right away, but I restrain myself until I’ve learned more about the situation. I may not wait long, maybe a day or so. When incidents like this occur, information flies fast and furious on social media, and you can learn a lot in a relatively short time to help you make up your mind. But if you feel you don’t know enough to render an opinion, if you’re unsure of who to support, wait until you feel you do know enough and are sure.
· Don’t make political/social issue posts about you. When I talk about political and social issues online, I do my best to make sure I don’t turn the focus on me. For example, I firmly believe black lives matter, but I don’t want to draw attention away from the voices of black folks who are directly affected by the issue, who live it. My role is to lend support, not to take over the conversation.
· Learn to listen first. Instead of posting all over the damn Internet about an issue like I’m some kind of goddamned expert, I do my best to listen to the voices of people who are experts because they live the issue day in and day out. For example, I believe transwomen are women and transmen are men. I also believe gender and gender expression are social constructs separate from biological sex. Just because I believe these things doesn’t make me an authority on all things trans and gender-related. I don’t try to teach people about others’ issues because I know that I’ll never understand enough to do so. I’ll never have direct, earned experience in these areas, and because of this, I try to support those who do and learn from them.
· It’s more effective to work for change IRL than merely to call for change online. This is the most important thing I’ve learned about working for social and political change. Basically, it boils down to talk is cheap, or maybe money talks and bullshit walks. I learned this from some good people who took the time to talk to me in private messages on social media. They gently let me know that while it was nice that I made a post about how women horror writers should be lifted up, for example, but that SAYING they should be lifted up was nowhere close to ACTUALLY lifting them up. (Especially when I was, as I said above, preaching to the choir.) I felt like a fucking idiot. I mean, it’s so obvious, right? But I’m a writer, and I’m used to using words to accomplish my goals. But words aren’t enough. I’ve always helped other writers, but now I make much stronger efforts to help writers from marginalized populations
· Signal boost other voices – without commentary. One of the things I try to do is boost the voices of writers from marginalized groups by sharing their posts. But in order for their voices to come through strong and clear, I need to keep my own mouth shut. (See my earlier suggestion about not making posts about you.) My job is to help these voices reach a wider audience, not to insert myself into their message.
· Mentor. I’ve always mentored other writers, whether formally through classes or the HWA’s Mentor Program, or informally by answering questions via email, private message, or IRL at cons. But over the last few years, I’ve made more of an effort to mentor folks from marginalized populations. (I include women in this group since they still don’t have a fully equal position in society with men.) If I see someone from a marginalized population mention on social media that they have a question or problem, or they’re in need of a mentor, I’ll reach out to them. I’ll offer to blurb their books too.
· Help people make connections. I also try to connect writers from marginalized populations with various opportunities – submission calls, conference appearances, introducing them to editors, etc. I can’t guarantee those connections will pan out for writers, but at least I can help get them a shot.
· Express your political and social views in your work. I believe the most effective way to speak to people about your beliefs is to do so through your work. Nobody wants to be lectured or preached at, but if you aren’t didactic about it, you can explore themes in your writing that reflect your values and deliver the message you’d like to give the world. For example, in my novel The Forever House, one of the themes is that people, regardless of their different backgrounds and beliefs, need to work together if they’re to have any hope of survival. I firmly believe that what unites us is more important than what divides us, but rather than tell readers this, I tried to show it through my characters and the events of my story. An extreme right winger might look askance at this idea if it was expressed directly. People working together for mutual benefit? Why, that’s, that’s . . . SOCIALISM! But if that person read my book, they might find themselves agreeing with the concept, not only because I didn’t present it in explicitly political terms, but because I presented it on a relatable, concrete, human level rather than as an abstract concept.
· White people, don’t @ me. If you’re a cis het white male – and you’ve read this far, you might be thinking, But what about us poor Caucasian boys? Why won’t he help us? Don’t worry. I help white guys too. I just make an effort to ensure I don’t help white men only. And you know what? Even if I did help writers from marginalized communities only, so fucking what? I would just be trying to help level a playing field that isn’t level at the moment, and in fact never has been.
David Sinclair, the man who founded the college where I teach (and which bears his name), had a motto that the faculty and staff still believe in: Find the need and endeavor to meet it. That’s all I’m trying to do. And hopefully, I’ve given you some ideas on how you can too.
DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
NIGHT TERRORS NEW EDITION
When you dream, you visit the Maelstrom. Dream long enough and hard enough, and your dreams can break through into the living world.
So can your nightmares.
And who's there to catch the dreams and nightmares as they fall into reality?
Meet the Shadow Watch. Pray you never need them. . .
My novel Night Terrors is being rereleased by Angry Robot Books with a new cover in trade paperback format. If it sells well enough, maybe they’ll also bring out a new edition of the sequel, Dream Stalkers. Better yet, maybe they’ll commission some new books in the series. If you’d like to see more adventures of Shadow Watch agent Audra and her nightmare clown partner Mr. Jinx, spread the word about the new edition! The book will be out on October 13th, and you can purchase it here:
WRITING IN THE DARK: THE BOOK
Writing in the Dark – my book on writing horror fiction – was released on Sept. 16th – and initial reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. All formats – hardcover, paperback, and ebook – are available to order. Thanks so much to all of you who’ve helped spread the word about the book!
“I had a chance to read through @timwaggoner's Writing in the Dark this week, and it is excellent! Comprehensive, accessible, no-frills, and packed with the advice that writers like Tim and myself wish we had been given when we started.” – Brian Keene
“Drawing on both personal experience and the advice and thoughts of dozens of horror authors and editors from around the world, Waggoner’s writing guide is also a deep dive into the genre itself. He breaks down popular tropes, describes how to draw out visceral responses in readers, and advocates for the important of horror stories in all of our lives . . .” – Becky Spratford, Library Journal
“I felt more as if I were sitting in a dive bar, discussing secrets of the universe with my feet up. He can take the toughest topic — from theme to voice to motivation and conflict—and talk someone through it as if reviewing his favorite new movie. – Dave Simms, Cemetery Dance
Raw Dog Screaming Press
Both hardcover and paperback: http://rawdogscreaming.com/books/writing-in-the-dark/
Barnes and Noble
SOME KIND OF MONSTER NOW AVAILABLE
Some Kind of Monster, my new novella from Apex Publishing, is now out! Here’s the synopsis:
Throughout her life, Angie has lost loved ones to stupid, meaningless deaths. As an adult she begins researching urban legends, hoping to find proof that something exists beyond our mundane world. Is there magic? Is there an existence beyond this life? Is there any kind of meaning to it all even if that meaning is a dark one? In the end, Angie will get her answer, and she'll learn that reality isn't just darker than she thinks: It's some kind of monster.
“Tim Waggoner manages to pack all the trappings of a full-size psychological horror into a sleek novella. Not one word wasted.” – Mother Horror
Order Links for Some Kind of Monster
Apex Book Company
Barnes and Noble
YOUR TURN TO SUFFER AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER
My next book from Flame Tree Press, Your Turn to Suffer, is now available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The book’s due out March 23, 2021. Here’s the synopsis:
Lorelei Palumbo is harassed by a sinister group calling themselves The Cabal. They accuse her of having committed unspeakable crimes in the past, and now she must pay. The Cabal begins taking her life apart one piece at a time – her job, her health, the people she loves – and she must try to figure out what The Cabal thinks she’s done if she’s to have any hope of answering their charges and salvaging her life.
Preorder Links for Your Turn to Suffer
Barnes and Noble
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YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZEz6_ALPrV3tdC0V3peKNw
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