Are Writers Allowed To Express Political Opinions?

The title is one that I hope will spark some constructive discussion. I’ve asked myself the question many times since the election and on certain days when I find myself glued to my Twitter feed.

VoltaireI realize the title itself may cause a few to bristle. Everyone is “allowed” to say whatever the hell they want. I’ve mostly kept my political opinions off public forums, and the reason for that is simple: I don’t want them to affect my reputation as a writer in any direction. When I post an opinion, I’m posting not just as myself but also as my brand. I want people to buy and read my books, and getting on my soap box could harm that effort.

But sometimes I wonder: could adding to public discourse perhaps attract new readers?

I write fiction, and anyone reading my books can probably figure out where I stand on certain issues. The Fourth Descendant offers a hint at my thoughts on Big Pharma. Drake and the Fliers enlightens you to my stance on gay rights. Project Renovatio and its successors show some of my position on GMOs and profiling. How we view the world will always come through in our work, so saying what we think on social media may not even be necessary.

If I wrote nonfiction, expressing my opinion on issues relevant to my topic would be obviously justified or even expected. But even nonfiction writers run the risk of alienating potential readers if they become too polarized.

This week, the President blocked Stephen King on Twitter.

King tweet

J.K. Rowling then stepped up and offered to DM Trump’s tweets to King (not gonna lie – that made me laugh). Now, King and Rowling are writers, and anyone who spends five minutes on Twitter knows where they stand politically. They are “allowed” to say what they think.

But

They are Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. They can say what they want and still have massive followings and be millionaires.

I think the vast majority of the rest of us have to be more careful.

I’ve watched from the sidelines as writing partners cut ties over an online argument based on differing political opinions. Neither changed the other’s stance, and what was once a constructive working relationship was over. Both sides probably felt vindicated, but big picture, nobody won.

The few times I have expressed political opinions online haven’t always gone very well. I’ve basically been told to shut up and/or have been called a name I find so disgusting I won’t repeat it in this space. While my instinct in those cases was to fight and win, I either sought common ground or stepped away. Following my instinct might show those who agree with me that I’m not afraid and am fighting for a greater cause, but if in the end it costs me sales and hurts my family financially, it’s not worth it.

Maybe someday I’ll be a big enough name that I can express what I think without worrying about the consequences (I’m just going to sit back and enjoy that possibility for a minute). But even if that does happen, I’m not sure I’ll freely indulge. I remember a time when politics went mostly undisclosed – my mom taught me it was rude to ask someone which way they voted. The reason was relationship was more important than dying on a hill. Some of the kindest people I know are those whose political stances are not obvious (yes, those people do exist in today’s climate).

That said, I want to make sure I’m not misunderstood. It’s important to stand up for causes you believe in, but we have to do it constructively – that means in ways that aren’t bickering on the internet. Call your senators. Sign petitions. Vote. If you don’t like how “the other side” treats a specific group, support that group with donations or volunteer hours. It may be cliche, but actions really do speak louder than words.

What do you think? Should non-political artists (this includes writers) express political opinions?

Please keep comments respectful and free of name calling. This is not the place to spout talking points. I monitor comments and will remove any that are inappropriate.

51 thoughts on “Are Writers Allowed To Express Political Opinions?

  1. Pingback: Guest post: The writer and the tortoise – redesign life

  2. Writers should do whatever they like as long as they’re prepared for the consequences, because it’s totally possible that (newly) opinionated authors will experience a drop off in social media followers who don’t agree with their politics.

    That’s a risk they’ll have to take on.

    That said, there are a LOT of people in the world. It stands to reason that the people who AGREE with those vocalized politics will feel more of a connection to with the author, resulting in a stronger inclination to support them by tweeting their links and purchasing their books.

    I decided a while ago to start being more vocal about things I care about. And, when I tweet about American politics I always see a drop-off in followers. I’m okay with that. If people disagree with me, they probably won’t like my book anyway. 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ha. Good point. I follow a couple of authors who are more political than I am and I laugh when they occasionally share bad reviews where the reader was complaining about the politics in the story. The author is always like, “Don’t you know me at all??”

      Liked by 2 people

    • Maybe they want a story and not a lecture.

      I try to support friends on social media by retweeting their stuff, but I don’t RT your posts where you are putting down my political party, my president or my country. (I don’t know why so many foreigners are inclined to tell us how to run our country, anyway.) You being more vocal is me being less supportive but not because I don’t like you – and it certainly doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like your book. It’s a GREAT book. The fact is, many on the left are going too far but they don’t see themselves as part of the problem, quickly able to point out someone worse. But it adds up. Like, a Klan member who boasts that he’s one of the good Klan members because doesn’t lynch people. Okay, but still in the Klan.

      Maybe there’s a better way.

      See, you feel comfortable with what you are saying but here I’m getting it 24/7 by a media that is mostly hateful towards me, my party and my president. I go overseas and see it shown in the worst light no matter what – and obviously, if I only show people a steady stream of your magnified flaws and rarely your pluses, you won’t look good. (I’ve been to Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Austria, Mexico, Aruba, Great Britain, Bahamas, some of the non-U.S. Virgin Islands, and in most of those countries it’s a consistent, negative, left wing feed they see of us.)

      Most people aren’t gonna take the time to determine just what level of left wing you’re at, they’re just gonna move on – so why alienate half your potential audience? Also, those who might agree politically might not want to associate with someone who is being more vocal/more radical, so you potentially alienate more than half the audience. That’s just not good business. And people can get indignant and can thump their chests and say its their right and make a straw man argument that I’m trying to silence them, but I’m trying to sell novels to as many people I can. When I wanna change political minds, I’ll write that book and label it as such.

      I’m happy to say we agree on WAY more than we disagree on, and I do my best to not embarrass anybody publicly when we disagree.

      As you said, there are consequences, but you never fully know what they are. Most people won’t say they didn’t support you because you’re politics were offensive, they just don’t help out when you need it.

      Personally, I don’t give money to people who hate me. I had the unfortunate experience of helping somebody several times who then on social media was a complete hate monger against my politics – just awful stuff she posted – and I’m not easily offended. Then she asked for money for advertising her service. Nope. But she doesn’t know why. To her, I’m the asshole. To me, she was abhorrently, despicably hateful, and nonstop with it. Who’s right? Both, but she lost the support, didn’t she?

      The problem with vocalizing one’s politics is this: today you are blasting at others who disagree with you about pickles; tomorrow it might be me you are blasting at because of my stand on tomatoes. Most people don’t wanna go there and they see a fight coming so they decide to cross the street instead. That’s how you alienate large amounts of potential audiences. That’s why it’s probably best to not do it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I admit to crossing the street more often than not. I live in a house divided (the hubs and I support opposite parties) and very occasionally we’ll get into spats over politics, but neither of us really see the value in doing that after the fact. Especially when the kids are around. So I have a lot of practice in street crossing. However, I do admit to venting with my fellow party members in our own little bubble and outside of the public eye.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dan, your thoughts are fairly close to mine in many ways. As a moderate, I seem to catch it from both ends! As for writing, political views are bound to show even in writing. But as long as they aren’t preachy, most people will accept that, I think. But I do get turned off by books that get too far from my own views, even if it’s a good story – it’s distracting.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I’m sure we are all capable of telling stories without telling our politics, if we want to.

          But again, I’m sure we are all capable of writing a really good political thriller that excoriates the political views we disagree with.

          And I’m pretty sure my fans will be smart enough to figure out they will like one book and they don’t like another and they don’t have to buy the ones they don’t like.

          I just need them to buy more of the ones they do
          like!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: If Writing is not Political, What’s the Point? « Frank Parker's author site

  4. I am firmly of the view that one is defined by one’s politics and one’s religion. I have no hesitation in making mine known – liberal atheist. If I offer an opinion – and I do, often – it’s up to the reader/hearer to take it or leave it. When I’m in the company (on line or in the flesh) of someone whose attitude makes it clear that (s)he enjoys a good argument I will happily engage. I will not force my opinion on anyone who makes it clear that (s)he does not wish to engage. I do try to keep my arguments logical and polite. Recently I have tagged my political posts as “Saturday Sound-off” so it’s clear to potential readers that I’m venting an opinion.
    As for the bottom line, half of next to nothing is next to nothing! (And neither I nor anyone else depends on my writing to keep the roof over their head and food in their bellies – near a half century of working at a different profession ensures that.)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. On my blog, I have a category devoted to soap-box rants, and I speak my mind on Twitter, too – when it’s something I’m passionate about. Oddly enough, the reason is precisely the one you gave – anyone reading my fiction will have a reasonable idea where I stand on all these issues. I don’t preach, but my worldview informs everything I write, whether I want it to or not. But there is a more important reason why I speak my mind despite being a non-celebrity – my brand. If the stand I take on issues is likely to offend certain readers, they will hate my books as well. If they buy my books and hate them, they may get angry and leave lots of angry reviews which might discourage all potential readers from reading my fiction. Therefore, I make no apologies for being me. But….I also believe in courtesy to everyone, and I do believe in reasoned debates rather than emotive put-downs to win a point. Perhaps how we speak our minds is as important as what we say.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. This is a terrific post, Allison.

    I left Facebook because of the sheer volume of political hatred that spilled over into education, healthcare, and religion. If I return to FB it will be with a new name and new “friends.” Maybe I’ll do the author Page.

    So far as your question. I’d say yes, of course, writers can express political opinions. Like Dan, I don’t care to hear them, and I sure as hell don’t want to hear them at the dinner table–unless they agree with mine!

    I’ve responded to a few insightful blogs on the current U.S./world political situation, and I was glad to do so, and will do so again, But, I have to say, I’ve “unfollowed” one blogger because of her political virulence against Democrats. If Stephen King was a blogger friend–he’s not–and if his blog was continuous hatred against Trump, I guarantee you, I’d unfollow him as well. Not that he’d care.

    Whatever political opinions I have, if they are strong enough, then they’ll come through my writing, through my characters who do have political opinions as well as religious and educational and social. Writers are people who live by the word, spoken and written. I’m hardly surprised to hear of any writer trumpeting his political opinion to the world-at-large. The “good” news is nobody really gives a crap. Political rant is a here today-gone tomorrow sort of thing–unlike a book that can be read and enjoyed over and over.

    I don’t know about King, but Rowling’s Harry Potter will be around for many years to come, and no one will remember Rowling’s political views, but they will enjoy, time and time again, Harry Potter’s successful Quidditch game.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve hidden a few people on fb who were polluting my feed with hate. I like that we can control content that way somewhat. And I’m glad you pointed out the temporary nature of political rants – what seems crucial in the moment usually isn’t – all the more reason to let it go! Thanks for the great comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Trump and every other political associate can stick to their job and we writers will stick to ours.
    Writers have been persecuted throughout the ages and we are a just, resilient group of individuals whose freedoms have long been abused as the Trumps of this world overstep their mark but continue to benefit greatly from both our creativity and knowledge.
    He is transgressing the boundaries. Their are penalties for every abuse of person and power.
    Trump and his ilk need to ask,
    “Where would I be without the writer?”

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I had a reviewer of one of my books state I obviously had an agenda. Ah… yeah. In that book I tried to show a lobbyist going above and beyond for their clients. The government agency that the lobbyist was pressuring sat on the sidelines not wanting to make a change, as any change would upset someone. Would the story have been as compelling if I walked the razor’s edge and not portrayed these two organizations as so corrupt? Probably not, since I felt they reflected and extreme example of how things work in real life.

    But I will admit, in that book I took the side of my protagonists who reflected the people in the industry that I’m employed. So my view on the subject would have been weighted in favor of the protagonists. I didn’t care the change my protagonist demanded would cost the industry money. Things would be safer, which the story showed.

    That is the fine line writers walk when writing, but I feel we can portray each side of a political argument without telling the reader, “look how flawed this character is.” If the characters reasoning and beliefs seem legitimate, hopefully the reader is left deciding to agree or disagree with the character.

    I too avoid political discussions feeling they may hurt my sales. I go so far as to not write a review of books I would have to give a three star or lower rating feeling that author may write a retaliatory review.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t worry as much about revealing “an agenda” in my novels. Characters need thoughts and opinions too. I think trying to remain totally neutral would make for a boring story. The one exception I can think of is when the book is ALL about a specific agenda and the villain represents the “other side” as the author sees it in an obvious way.

      I don’t write negative reviews either, but mostly because I’m a lazy reader and rarely finish a book that hasn’t hooked me.

      Like

  9. Great post, Allison. As I writer, I post on my author Facebook page and tweet about things that are pertinent to my writing: women’s rights, human rights, sex trafficking, domestic violence, education, self help etc. I sometimes share links to political news articles on twitter, but I don’t rant and I don’t fan the flames of discourse. I don’t think it reflects well.

    Sometimes, though, I do get worked up over politics, and tweet something, and then I feel silly and delete it.

    The political positions of various authors or actors don’t bother me. I don’t pay attention to them. They don’t concern or affect me.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have a friend on Facebook who asked a similar thing about five or six years ago, and he decided he wasn’t going to stop being himself on Facebook for fear of losing business.

    Five years later and a lot of times in between, he said that for every potential person he lost who disagreed with him politically, he gained one who agreed with him politically. So it is worked out for him.

    I think actors would really be miffed if politicians told them how to act or where to stand or what camera lens to use, and I really hate the fact that Stephen King unleashes a spleen full of bile on those who doesn’t agree with him politically. It’s disgusting. And I find it offensive – but I don’t really read his work, either. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a great writer – but I don’t like a lot of the stuff.

    I don’t like it when actors tell me how to vote. If they tell me how to act, and I want to be an actor, I will certainly listen to Leonardo DiCaprio. When it comes to other stuff, I don’t really care what he thinks. I would listen to a doctor tell me about what it takes to be a doctor, but I would not listen to a politician tell me what it takes to be a doctor. Similarly, I like to listen to successful authors and up-and-coming authors because I can learn from all of them. And I find there are similarities with other creative arts like acting and music. But I don’t want to listen the actors and musicians and authors tell me their political pinions. Because I feel like they think their opinion matters more because they have a bigger platform, and their opinion does not matter more because they have a bigger platform.

    As you noted, Stephen King and J. K. Rowling seem to be able to get away with it, but it’s not that the rules don’t apply to them anymore, it’s just that they exceeded the limit of critical mass. I don’t think they were quite so open about their political opinions when they were unheard of. Maybe they were, I don’t know.

    I just know I don’t like it when they do that. So I don’t do that.

    They’re welcome to do whatever they want and I will buy or not buy according to whether I like their stories.

    Do I feel like if I try that I will get away with it? I don’t beat the political drum too much but I let people know I’m a Republican.

    I used to say our video show was great because we were three great friends and we could discuss politics respectfully (if at all) and not worry about trying to change each other’s minds. We don’t do the show anymore but I think that still the case – although I’m not sure my two former partners feel the same way. I can’t speak for them.

    I just know people aren’t buying my books to get my views on politics.

    And I believe I’m a good enough writer to be able to write a story without you figuring out what my politics are if I don’t want you to know.

    I can be republican and write a gay character who’s a hero. I’ve done it.

    I can do anything because I’m THAT good of a writer.

    Except proofread. I can’t do that.

    I will say this: if you turned your blog into a political screed a few times a month, I would read it a lot less, but only because I don’t want to read about politics when I come to this blog. If this blog became that, I’d come here less or maybe not at all. That’s not why I come here. If I go to the grocery store to buy cereal and they quit selling cereal, I have to find a different grocery store.

    I guess if I went to the store for cereal and instead of cereal they were trying to shove another product down my throat, I would probably avoid that store from then on.

    In fairness, though, after I read a few of JK Rowling’s political rants, I quit reading her political rants, too. And King’s. So you’d be in good writerly company.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Because your name is your brand, and people buy based on their perceptions of your good name, you don’t go political.

    Sure, you want to offer your opinions and good advice about the state of politics, but understand that it affects your bottom line. If you don’t care about losing 50% of your bottom line, then have at!

    I note that many people will purchase the books of outspoken celebrity writers despite their alignments politically. It’s almost comical. “I hate that viewpoint so much!” they say, “and I hate that SuperMoneyBagsWriter supports that viewpoint, but I love their books so I don’t care and I’m buying it.” However, there seems to be a tipping point for these people, when, for instance, it’s a smaller name brand and their brand loyalty doesn’t hold true, even if the writing is just as good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s very true! Authors that are “trendy” definitely have more leeway. Some smaller names can get a following because of a certain viewpoint (I read this author because he believes XYZ), which might seem like a good thing until you realize that cuts off a lot of potential readers. Just like you said – it affects the bottom line!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  12. As you say, people (writers or not) are free to express opinions about whatever they wish and in these politically-charged times, it doesn’t surprise me that they do. Despite my keen interest in politics, it’s something I steer clear of publicly. My readers come for humour and fiction and no doubt have little interest in my thoughts on such weighty matters. Whilst I personally would never cut ties with anyone based on political (or any other) standpoints alone, the rest of the internet is not quite so understanding towards those who hold different views and I have no desire to engage in keyboard wars with the faceless masses. So I stick to what I do and save my personal views for my personal life. For those with bigger platforms (such as King and Rowling) I applaud them for speaking out if that’s what they want to do, their words will carry more weight than mine.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I actually think a little less of Stephen King because he seems to get drawn into so many fights that only appeal to his far left liberal friends. For that reason I tend to ignore his political side and enjoy the writings of his that I enjoy.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’m absolutely one of those far left liberals and I get sick of how King deals with it. It goes back to the idea of engaging in a discussion and not just name calling and demanding people see it how we do.

        For me personally, I engage in some politics, but my writing also tends to focus on minorities/gay/female leads, etc, so I feel people are going to see my political leanings either way. That doesn’t make people who disagree stupid. Just different.

        The sooner everyone stops playing teams and demanding everyone is either with or against them, the sooner we can work together to find some common ground. Just my opinion. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

        • The fact is, I don’t usually separate my friends into those I agree with politically and those I don’t.

          For example, one of my wife’s oldest and dearest friends, which means she has been my friend for a very, very long time, is about as far left as you can get. But aside from her politics, there is very little to disagree with her about. She’s extremely smart. A great mother. A great business person. Her politics reflect how she believes the world can be improved. I want to improve the world but I want to go about it in a different manner. That’s really about it.

          So for the most part, we agree on about 95% of life including most of our political goals, we just disagree about the way to achieve the political goals – and we mostly agree on just about everything else in life.

          That makes for a good friend and occasionally a lively discussion, but rarely one that’s disrespectful. King always seems to go completely disrespectful right off the bat and that’s why I just can’t stomach him or Rowling.

          I would say 99% of the political discussions Allison and I have had were completely respectful. The one percent that weren’t, were regrettable on both of our behalfs.

          Liked by 3 people

  13. Should is such a loaded word. LOL
    I try to stay off the hot button topics. The ones where you will never change someone’s mind with a well written/argued comment because it is emotionally ingrained in their perspective of themselves. Religion. Politics. Gun Control. Gay Rights. Homeschooling. LOL
    I don’t believe standing about yelling at others changes anything but their ability to hear. I agree that how we spend our time says much more about who we are and what we believe.
    And it is possible to keep your politics to yourself but that comes with it’s own issues as well. LOL. Because I am highly visible at my son’s cooperative school (board and teacher) people rant their politics to me all the time and assume I agree with them. I have two pat phrases I use when forced to say things.
    A) “I have to agree the things I heard this morning made me angry as well.”
    B) “I don’t get involved with politics because it makes me too angry to be effective in my immediate world where I can do the most good if I am focused.”
    Both comments tell nothing about my politics and diffuse almost any situation.

    Liked by 2 people

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