This is one of my most important messages.
One of the many reasons I left my day job was stress. Many of you have done the same or are in the process of finding ways to leave the lifestyle that makes your world less palatable.
I worked for the federal government, and my job entailed balancing the wishes of my politician boss, the needs of the public, and the competition of my peers. Add family to the mix, and it made for some sleepless nights and tight-chested days. I left that life to write, and it was one of the best decisions of my existence.
Then I read an article in the latest Psychology Today (love that magazine) about how polarization saddens us and, if we do not control it, can make our lives toxic. But humans like to congregate. They evolved from packs. And we interact accordingly.
“So when the world looks safe, mammals happily fan out to find resources to meet their needs. When threats are perceived, mammals retreat to the safety of social alliances.”
The problem these days is that we belong to multiple groups. We are writers. That’s one group. Many of us relate to one political party or the other. We often claim a religion or relate to our gender or sexual orientation. We are foodies, animal rights advocates, and home-schooling parents. All of us belong to several groups, but not all groups believe in each other a hundred percent. We have allies and contrarians even within the groups we align with.
When my life gets too hectic, I feel it in my chest. I toss and turn and have nightmares, some nights am grateful for three hours of rest. I try to avoid items and people that cause me stress. It’s not a weakness. I deem it a strength to be in control of my life. I fight for that lifestyle, and anyone who has visited me can feel it in all I’ve created.
But there are some who choose to be more aggressive in one or two aspects of their lives. That does not mean they are right or wrong…or that you are right or wrong…or that I am all right or wrong.
Choosing to be aggressive – not to be confused with passionate – about an issue or group, and infusing it into your writing world, will cause others to choose sides . . . and possibly avoid you. They retreat into the group they feel most comfortable with. As an author, you choose whether you want your life’s choices to walk alongside your writing, because to do so is choosing to alienate groups (or packs) of readers who feel differently. And not everyone is going to agree with the non-writer side of you.
Sure, it’s noble to have causes. Others, however, may feel just as noble in their causes. Why do you have to clash if your unity is, say, mystery fiction? Why do we only have to relate to those who match us group for group?
I’ve supported one particular author for several years. Love her writing style. Back during the election, I got bombarded by political stances, and when those stances started rejuvenating those old stress feelings in my chest and making me restless at night, I quietly severed social media links with the most toxic. Hers was one.
Months later, she won an award for her novel. She messaged me, and I rejoiced with her! “Wonderful,” I said. “You deserve it.”
“But why did you unfriend me on Facebook?”
And we held a very civil discourse about politics. I rather enjoyed it. We were on opposite ends of the spectrum, but nobody got angry. We agreed that we would not be Facebook friends because she’s chosen these days to lead with politics over her writing, and I didn’t want it spilling into my world. We agreed to disagree. Quite amicably. And we still support each other’s books.
Not everyone will agree with you. And please, do not demand people agree with you. Let life run through you, not stop at your outstretched, palm up hand. You don’t have to agree. You might better understand by listening. And the result may also be to attract…and keep…your readers. Even if you aren’t fans on Facebook.