We cordially invite you to our new column that will help you avoid gaffes and snafus and guide you in what to do when you don’t have a clue what is expected of you. This is a column where writers, editors, and other literary types can air their questions and pet peeves. Each month you will be invited to submit your queries, complaints and accusations (no, not personal ones!) of failures of etiquette on Twitter or Facebook, or by emailing the editors, and we will select a few for investigation by our team of experts whose qualifications include literary acclaim, publishing experience, and/or just a refined sense of rude and wrong.
So come in, have a seat. Cross your legs, take your elbows off that table, and let us begin with this month’s question, emailed to us by one of our readers.
That may be a mild exaggeration. But very mild. So tell me, is this bad manners, and if so, why, and finally, I can’t look away – I want to but I can’t! Tell me what to do.
As a prose writer, there is nothing that can deflate you like Facebook. The same goes for Twitter and book industry blogs and any literary sites that give you the latest news about big-money deals or movie options or stellar reviews or prizes or exclusive parties or magazine and anthology publications or best-of lists or wonderful things that are happening to other writers. Somehow, some way, resist looking at them! You really don’t need to keep up with any of this shit. It’ll make you feel like a loser. On Facebook, hide posts from people who link to such news, who promote themselves, who tell you how industrious they’re being, who engage in literary gossip. Alternatively, create a Facebook list of close friends, bookmark the page, and only look at posts from those on that list. In general, don’t become obsessed with the goings-on of other writers, don’t follow their Tweets, don’t Google them, don’t check their Amazon sales rankings, don’t fume and fulminate and fall into self-loathing.
Envy is a killer. Oscar Wilde said something once, which Gore Vidal appropriated. Essentially, it’s that success isn’t enough; your friends must fail as well. Don’t become that sort of person. The question about etiquette is beside the point. The real point is what you’re letting such things do to you.
-Crusty Fartlek is a fiction writer and used to edit a lit mag.
This is not evidence of your bad manners, though. You aren’t sending mean-spirited emails to this writer or conspiring with others against her. So far, your resentment is self-contained – no harm, no etiquette foul.
If you are clever enough to navigate the ever-changing privacy settings of Facebook, you could hide her posts. But I imagine the lure of “wondering what is she posting today” would eat away at you, making your afternoons unproductive and maddening.
Better yet, pity the fool.
For as John Steinbeck said, “Perhaps the less we have, the more we are required to brag.” Like those holiday letters from distant relatives that describe their fabulous vacation home, their toddler’s acceptance into an Ivy League pre-school, and their ability to run 26 miles in an hour, I don’t think everything is as it seems. In my experience, people bragging about accomplishments on the Internet do it because they don’t have any humans to contact directly.
The next time you read a post from this Facebook friend, bear in mind that she likely doesn’t have anyone in her life to share her good news with, so she is sharing it with EVERYONE. This may make it easier for you turn away, so you can gradually wean yourself from these posts.
I look forward to your next story, about a writer who spends so much time posting on Facebook about her accomplishments she doesn’t have time to achieve any.
-Anna Graham is a woman of experience. She has read and observed widely. She is young enough to sympathize with love’s young dream. She will answer, to the best of her ability, all letters on subjects pertaining to manners.
Is this bad manners? No more so than posts about one’s baby’s poop, one’s students’ mindboggling stupidity, or the fact that “I just have to say it, because it’s true: sorry all you other ladies, but I happen to be married to the best hubby EVER!!!!”
In other words, yes, it’s one more way that social media have contributed to the general collapse of basic politesse—by which I mean modesty, restraint, and decorum.
As for why it’s bad literary manners (besides crossing the line between sharing and bragging): quite simply, it is inconsiderate. That is, it flaunts information that, even if unwittingly, is offensive/hurtful/irritating to viewers.
But the why of it doesn’t really matter. After all, we all know “it” when we see it. As for what to do about it: you already know the answer. Block the person’s posts, and be freed forever of her insensitive crowing.
Or you can leave her up there and continue to waste precious minutes of your life keeping detailed track of her good fortune. The choice is yours.
People have strong opinions about what appropriate behavior is for writers on Facebook, and I am struck by how often people will complain about certain writers’ use of it, when the solution is clear. (Don’t follow anyone whose posts annoy you!) But I’d like to throw in a different perspective here. For the most part, as writers, we do something that isn’t always understood by others. So should we begrudge each other the small victories we all work so hard for? Having met the page count, having scored an agent or sold a book, or simply having placed a smaller piece in a magazine or newspaper? Personally, I try to take pleasure in these as collective victories. Someone wrote something! Someone else thought it mattered! Hurrah! And if you give me a link, I’ll probably even read any publication my “friends” have posted.
And remember, someone else’s achievements does not take away from your own.
But bragging about one’s husband’s culinary prowess, now that is unforgivably rude!
-Belle Tristic: On my thirteenth birthday my father sent me a copy of Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. I’ve been writing, teaching, editing, and judging people ever since.
First off, um, YES. This is bad manners. No one likes a braggart, and that’s what this is, plain and simple, though it’s couched in this sort of doe-eyed “I-can’t-believe-my-life-is-going-well-and-I’m-so-grateful” facade. Who can stomach that? Not us.
To post a status update is to brag about one’s life, whether the news be good or bad. So please, if you’re having a really good streak of success with your word count, or your publications, or your spouse’s investment in cooking and childrearing, always try to remember not to make other people feel bad about their own lives when you post about yours. As you’re exclaiming that you wrote 5000 words, have the decency to sound surprised. Remember that other writers might have had a day where they erased 5000 words or didn’t get to their desks at all. If an agent is about to call you, have the common courtesy to be (or at least act) shocked that they’d be giving you the time of day. Remember those friends of yours who are years away from their first call from an agent, or the ones who had a rejection slip in the mailbox that morning.
While you’re at it, don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s amazing how important this is. Truly good writers are the ones who come to the blank page with fear, who constantly worry that they’ll never succeed, and who, if they’re successful, never think their success is going to last or that they deserve it. The best writers almost always seem to be the ones who think they are shams. If you can retain a sense of modesty when you post–a sense that when life gives you lemonade, the lemons might be just around the corner–your status updates will be much more tolerable for others to read.
Lastly, do you have a sense of humor? If so, deploy it! An annoying post like “My new character is perfect and I love her” would be much better if it were also funny, a la “My new character, though I’ve given her warty toes, an inability to stay in a committed relationship, and an obsession with 1950s polka music, seems perfect to me. I wonder if I’ll be able to sustain this love through a whole novel?” Surprise people. Add a laugh to their day–that will make your posts much more memorable than a blandly positive life-affirming post could ever be.
And now we’re off to finish that last chapter of our novel, the one that we wrote in twenty minutes without a single mistake. Isn’t that incredible? We’re so amazed at how talented we are–it takes our breath away.
–The Grub Street Etiquette Elite is a cadre of super-polite literary individuals dedicated to helping writers everywhere avoid faux pas.
It’s excruciating, isn’t it? Having to hear all the intimate details of another person’s life – especially another writer’s – especially when they seem to have all the lucky breaks in the world (helpful spouse, productive work habits, a star agent), even more especially if and when you don’t. And yes, anyone who posts on Facebook about how “the universe” is giving her great things is undeniably irritating.
And yet the only bad manners I can see in this situation, I’m sorry to say, are yours. Your Facebook frenemy may be the most annoying humble-braggart in the world, but you are guilty of something worse: covetousness, otherwise known as the sin of envy, one of the famous seven deadly, along with its fellows gluttony, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and greed. Certainly writers have tended to embrace some of these (pride, lust, gluttony, and sloth primarily) as compatible with the usual literary life. Wrath has its place, too – in response to a terrible review or particularly cutting rejection. But for a writer, the two sins most benign in public life – sloth and envy – can be paralyzing. Given the solitary, sedentary life many writers lead, we are especially vulnerable to these temptations. But they must be overcome, and the solution is fairly easy: look to your own work and ignore what other people are doing.
In today’s world, the quickest route away from sloth and envy is to quit Facebook, or at least put stringent restrictions on how you use it. You may end your online friendship with this woman whose status updates so fill you with envy; in a less emphatic move, why not simply hide her updates so you don’t have to see them? What you may not do – because it’s not only morally suspect but also because it’s deadly to your writing – is blame her for all the things that you find less than satisfying about your own life.
-Lulu Manchester is a literary critic and journalist. After several years serving as managing editor of online magazines and academic reference works, she is left with plenty of opinions and no employees to yell at about them.
For original poetry, fiction, interviews, and art song, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org. Have your own literary etiquette question? Submit it on Twitter, Facebook, or anonymously by email by visiting our masthead and contacting the editor-in-chief.