Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[personal] On being political and being a writer

A funny thing happens on my Twitter feed. I gain two dozen or more followers a day, and lose about half of them almost immediately. I suspect roughly the same ratio holds true on my blog readership, though the tracking is less obvious to me. Though it's possible some people don't care for my writing, or my humor, or my looks (as Nick Cave said, I'm sorry, but there ain't much I can do about that), I'll bet dollars to donuts that most of my unfollowers are reacting to my strong political stance.

When I began writer blogging in earnest, about seven or eight years ago, I was conscientiously apolitical in my public persona. I'd been experimenting with protoblogging as far back as 1998 or so, but that was before my writerly identity had emerged, so basically I was a dude with a Web site complaining about politics. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (And yes, the astute reader will note that I have, in effect, come full circle.)

As a new-writer-who-blogged, I was very concerned with not offending readers and fans. I generally don't write explicitly political fiction, unlike, say, douglain. I felt like it was important to present an amiable, neutral persona that could appeal to a wide spectrum of readers.

Basically, I wanted to be mayonnaise.

This lasted a few years. Over that time, several problems with this position made themselves known to me.

First of all, although I don't write explicitly political fiction, everything I write has a stance. It's very rare for me to be morally neutral on cultural and social themes. Sometimes I write contra my own beliefs — the theology of Mainspring certainly doesn't reflect my perspective on the relationship between God and His creation, for example — but there's always some position being taken, usually a strong one. Not didactically so, for I despise didactic fiction, but simply arising organically from my own sense that strong convictions are essential to becoming a fully engaged moral and social being, whether one is a fictional character or a walking, talking person.

In other words, my fiction is rarely neutral, whether or not a given piece aligns with my views.

Second, I am a political animal. I actively engage with the world on a political level, on a level of principles, and I spend a fair amount of time thinking about such things. Denying my political sense was akin to denying my sense of myself as a dad, as a foodie, as a writer. It bothered me.

Third, I realized that the fiction(ish) blogs I admire most are unafraid of taking strong positions. matociquala, scalzi, Making Light. None of them suffer from a lack of readership, no one's career seems damaged by being overt about their convictions and opinions.

I was mayonnaise, they were strong spices. Not to everyone's taste, but far more interesting and engaging.

So I stopped being mayonnaise.

Was this a good career move? I may never know. I can't tell you how many readers have decided not to pursue my fiction because they've realized I'm a liberal idiot. Surely some, possibly many. On the other hand, my blog readership doubled almost immediately when I took the gloves off, and has been growing ever since. And for people who love good fiction, the writer really is not the story. (If the writer was the story, I'd have been locked up a long time ago for "The Goat Cutter".)

I am not a political writer, but I am a human being who is both political, and a writer. It's more honest for me to embrace both those identities, and trust people to follow my work for its own sake, whatever they think of my opinions.

Plus I have a lot more fun being spice than being mayonnaise.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: books, mainspring, personal, politics, stories

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