Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Taking Things Personally

Harry Marks usually posts really smart stuff, but this is simply misguided:

But the #50tips hashtag bothered me. It’s one thing to say, “She’s not a good writer and I don’t like her books,” – In fact, E.L. James will be the first to tell you she’s not a good writer, but what transpired on Twitter was not well-reasoned criticism using multiple points of logic and proof to make a point. This was destructive and an abhorrent illustration of mob mentality.

Shorter version: juvenile mockery isn’t always pleasant.

No shit?

So, to all those “authors” who spent their day tweeting and retweeting vitriol, how much writing did you get done? Were you able to squeeze it in between bouts of smug laughter and grammatical gymnastics? Does calling James a plagiarist make your book any better?

No. I didn’t even participate in this Twitter smugfest, but does it really matter?

I’m sure some people will dismiss #50tips as merely harmless ribbing.

Yes.

After all, she’s got millions of dollars. She can take it. And if she didn’t want all this negative attention, she shouldn’t have become famous.

That’s not the argument I’d use. Rather, I’d point out that human beings are, in general, capable of resisting a little bit of jesting. I walked into the side of a door this morning and someone broke out laughing. Embarrassing? Sure. Funny? You bet. So long as people aren’t mocking minorities for being minorities — that’s cruel for obvious reasons, and usually mean-spirited — it’s usually meant in good fun. It’s not to be taken personally.

But take those words and apply them to an eleven year-old who might have written a best-selling fantasy trilogy that, while technically wasn’t good at all, told a fun story people really liked and made him a lot of money in the process.

How the hell is this a comparison? An eleven year-old is eleven — young, without experience, without significant education, and lacking any broad sense of composition. Marks could use “mouse” or “tree” in place of “eleven year-old” and create just as apt of a comparison. It’s so “not even wrong” that it’s impossible to logically disprove.

This post comes in the wake of a SXSW session regarding the culture of Reddit. The difference between what Marks is describing and the misogyny and racism of parts of Reddit is that the latter is mean-spirited and spiteful. The mocking of E.L. James’ books and writing is generated as a byproduct of its success, and is generally lighthearted. No reasonable person is mocking James for being a woman — that’s completely different, unfunny, and such behaviour should be condemned.

Which brings me to Marks’ closing statement:

If you’re a maker, focus on what you’re making. Don’t worry about what someone else is doing. E.L. James may not be a great writer, but she is published. She’s not writing pithy tweets about “lesser” writers and she certainly doesn’t deserve the horrendous things people are saying about her personally.

Writing a jokey 140-character tweet is hardly considered “worrying” about what someone else is doing. That she is published means her work is commercially viable; it’s not a measure of quality. And, as I mentioned before, no reasonable person is mocking her personally. Jokes at the expense of someone’s work may not be to your particular tastes, but they are not personal. Considering how self-aware E.L. James is about the quality of her writing, it’s unlikely that she would take personal offence to the tweets in question. With regard to the more serious accusation of plagiarism, well, there might be something to that.

Maybe this post comes as a product of art school. Enough harsh critiques about your work will require you to learn to separate someone’s opinion about what you made from an attack of your person.

General life tips: don’t be a dick, and don’t be a prude. don’t write things you wouldn’t want to defend in person, whether for positive reasons or negative reasons.1


  1. In keeping with the spirit of criticizing the work instead of the person, I have retracted my previous statement and revised it to be more considerate. My apologies to Harry Marks. ↩︎