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.
I 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.
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.
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.