This biweek at the Diner, we're serving up leftover chili from Superbowl parties--Frito pie, anybody?--along with articles about the perils and pitfall of a writing career. Many of us are at the start of our journeys while many have trekked forward a bit. We're all plotting our courses very carefully, maybe even using a map or two as we decide what the next leg of our journey is going to be. And we're all keeping a sharp-eyed lookout for potholes and traffic jams, herds of cows in the road or icy patches--all the perils and pitfalls of being writers.
The peril I'm going to discuss briefly is a natural hazard for most of us, since we all love words and sharing them. Once you start to get out and about--as a published author, an active unpublished author or some mishmash between the two--one of the perils you may discover is the peril of public speaking. I'm not talking about getting up in front of groups and running your yap while everyone eats a turkey sandwich and drinks weak iced tea. I'm talking about the mighty time sink that is the Internet and all the opportunities it offers for us to be "heard".
Especially in this day and age where everybody and their cat has a blog (my cat's blog entries are MUCH better than mine), many of us feel compelled to make a cyber mark in order to attract editors, agents, readers, fans, friends and support personnel. It can be so slow and difficult to get your work published that there's a great satisfaction to be found in sharing our words with other people--as we start discussions, participate in them or attempt to have the final say in them. Online exchanges, fraught with misinterpretations and typos, can become quite passionate. The give and take of ideas can be heady, even upsetting. Online imbroglios can even boil over into your everyday life, and you end up wishing you could quit the Internet. Some do. Some remain deeply involved no matter what.
There are several schools of thought regarding author behavior online. At what point can authors stop being professionals, out to make a good impression on potential readers and colleagues, and start being people? Should they keep it non-controversial at all times, just in case? Do authors have to bite their tongues or just on certain topics? Can they push things this far without it being too far? How about this far? Is being colorful or shocking a fabulous approach to "public" speaking because at least you'll be interesting? And how much impact does the small and volatile circle of online readers and writers have in the outside world? Beyond websites, how active does an author truly need to be online in order to hop the next train of her career?
There's no right or wrong answer. You have to decide for yourself, based on observation, instinct and knowledge of your own communication needs. Where you choose to fall on the spectrum (and do make it a choice, instead of an accident) between uninvolved and obsessive is up to you as long as you remember there's one constant: what you share online in emails, blogs, comments, loops and chats can and will be flung back at you when it's most inconvenient.
So have fun out there, however much you choose to be out there, but when it boomerangs back at you, be ready to catch it--like a pro, not like a pie in the face. There are much better places for pie.