Dear Imbiber,

Hope you’re having a good weekend. I won’t ask how the new short story is coming because I hate when you ask me how my book is coming along. I’m emailing you to ask if you have seen this stupid #harshwritingadvice Twitter hashtag. You’ll love it. I found it because I kept seeing retweets. It all started with someone… I don’t know, someone tweeting something others thought was stupid. Typical Twitter. But at one point, scrolling, I saw these tweets (among others a lot like them) and I could only shake my head in disbelief:

Look, I am not saying I am 100 percent right about this, but I am certain I am not 100 percent wrong either. Sure there is some camaraderie (especially among true friends, like you and me), and the idea of writing as a family is true at times to an extent, but there is lots that can be petty and ugly. I’m not tweeting this because I’m not looking to be the target of a Twitter pile on by my, uh, “non-competition” who aim to do nothing but “lift me up.”

Consider especially that last tweet and think about this. I’ve spent more time in libraries than I care to remember. Academia is one of the most fiercely competitive workplaces there is – usually while insincere smiles abound. They would sell their own mother for tenure. I know because I witnessed it. And we know that those library shelves are full of books deemed “better” and “essential.”

[Books on my desk. Photo by me, January 31, 2020.]

Are many Twitter fiction writers age 7 or truly this naïve? I’m starting to wonder. Indeed the school playground is full of competition. Musicians compete. Actors compete. Dancers compete. And on and on. Writing is the only craft in the world with no competition among the crafters?

There are awards writers hope to win. There are all sorts of contests and competitive prizes out there some aim to win, too. And why? To try to stand apart. And why? To be seen as a better writer than other writers. (One I follow on Twitter and Instagram whose publisher – she says – submitted her latest book for a prestigious literary award has, in my opinion, not a snowball’s hope in hell of winning it; but she has nonetheless prominently mentioned it in those social media bios. Anyone can submit that application; but I would not even think to, much less announce having done so.) I watched some of the [mis]behaviors in the 1980s-90s of some of my uncle’s writing “chums”; not only did they have to win, but others had to fail. So let’s not delude ourselves either. The reality of writing also includes the likes of jealousy and backstabbing at times too. The idea that in a group of four writers, if only one hits it big the other three will be only happy and supportive and there won’t be at least private grumbling? (“How the hell did she get published there? Ugh. I write better…”) Seriously?

A thousand submissions for 10 slots in the magazine: that’s not competitive? There are also plagiarists. There have been sockpuppeters online – some having been revealed as being quite accomplished authors – who have left poor reviews for “their competition.” (Those who were uncovered who we now know of, that is. One can only imagine the extent of ongoing [mis]behaviors of some much lesser knowns leaving lousy reviews for “competition.”)

Pile ons I have seen by hordes of “writers” on Twitter attacking one writer for one tweet have been appalling. Remember the one who dared just to question the “F” word’s necessity in books, and hundreds swarmed her, calling her every name under the sun – often trying to put “F” in their pile on tweets – to try to belittle her? Yeh, how f-ckin’ “supportive,” eh? I was so disgusted by it, I almost left Twitter. Indeed such pile ons are proof in itself that all is not bouquets and chocolates among writers.

And when did the word “competitor” itself become a bad thing, a dirty word, anyway? Competition helps us improve and even thrive. Reading such tweets above I also thought that if you ever thought to yourself “I can write a better book than this [that I am reading],” that is competitive and you see others as competitors. So let’s stop kidding ourselves. Maybe I as a writer am only “mildly” competitive, and maybe you are too, but there are certainly others who are vicious. Come to think of it, I know if you, dude, ever got a film deal, I’d never hear the f-ing end of it. LOL!

That last person there definitely has the right idea. I even gave it a “like.” I have long held that same view.

Things here in the U.K. are what you might expect. Locked down, but we are managing. The government got lots wrong with the pandemic, but they seem to have pulled a real blinder in pre-ordering the amount of vaccine they did. We may get jabs in March.

Okay, I suppose, Mr. Vermont, you bought a Bernie shirt. That meme was hilarious. Have a good Sunday and stop the celebrating he is no longer president: don’t drink too much today.

R. J.

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