Why writers need to learn when to shut the f**k up

Recently there has been a spate of illustrious writers really shoving their foot in their mouths, sometimes all the way up to the knee. Two examples are VS Naipaul who recently said “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”, and “Homosexuality is a defect” said recent Nebula award winner Eric James Stone (comment 21).

To quote one of my favourite humourist non-fiction writers: “Opinions are like nipples, everybody has one. Some have firm points, others are barely discernible through layers, and some are displayed at every opportunity regardless of whether the audience has stated ‘I am interested in your nipples’ or not.” – David Thorne. The last part is especially true of writers, who, mostly, by their nature of course have a multitude of nipples and they feel beholden to display each and every one of them whenever, wherever, they can.

But therein lies the rub, as writers we are now expected (and indeed required to do so by publishers in many cases) to shamelessly promote ourselves in whatever mediums we can to aid both one’s long term career and current book sales. But the truth is not every opinion a writer has is worth sharing, and with the net’s ability (socially and otherwise) to disseminate information at near light speeds, some opinions are certainly best left unsaid. Because when, for example, that opinion is blatantly sexist, then you have just shot yourself in the foot and lost at least 50% of your readers and many more potential readers. And that carelessly formed and thrown opinion, particularly when it hits the net, will last virtually forever.

There is the saying that ‘all publicity is good publicity’, but it does not hold true today, and perhaps it never has. So as a writer you have to think long and hard before you open your mouth, answer that email interview, or comment on anything at all online. Because if you don’t it could (depending on its severity) come back and bite a huge chunk out of your arse, and career, permanently. So we need to learn when to just shut the f**k up and keep our opinions to ourselves, and when not too. It’s either that or you need to become a recluse and have zero public interaction at all, which for seemingly compulsive serial offenders like Naipaul is probably the best option. So if you’re a closet misogynist, homophobe, racist, etc., then you’d best keep it in the closet. Unless you only want readers who share these views, because that’s all the readers you’ll have left, and the rest of us who don’t share these views, well, we won’t be buying your books any time soon once we know.