I don’t know about you, but when I publish anything – blog post, email, tweet – it is often with trepidation, and after some soul-searching, and much reading and re-reading. Sometimes even for <140 characters of froth. We all know there are people out there just waiting to shout us down, even if mostly in a very minor way.
That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not. I’m a bit of a Twitter addict, and I see it all the time. Even within my own bubble (and it is quite a bubble; I know there’s a whole alternative Twitter out there which I mostly choose not to see, where people don’t post language memes, pie charts showing how we’ve all been screwed by the hard right, and pictures of trees), I lose track of all the times someone on what you might think of as one ‘side’ of an argument is shouted down by people you might also think were on the same side, as a result of a particular interpretation of what they’ve written or said. Or, pick the wrong hashtag for a vaguely political comment and you’ll quickly get told to shut up by someone with too much time on their hands.
Sure, we do have to be careful what we say – words are powerful and, especially if we work with language for a living, it’s bad for business to appear not to be completely in control of them – but on the other hand, if we are too careful, we’d never say anything. Putting words out there is always a risk: it exposes us. I know people who’ve been trolled who decide to take the risk less often as a result, or not at all, and it’s a shame.
The thing that actually made me want to write this post, though, was something more positive. I’m booked on a writing course next month, and I need to submit a sample of my work-in-progress. This terrifies me! Of course I put words out there all the time. I write tens if not hundreds of thousands of words by email every year. I tweet. I blog. I write comments on Facebook. But this is different … It’s fiction; it’s my imagination (or lack of?) laid bare, there on the page, ready to be critiqued. And for all that I’ve worked with words for nearly twenty years, I still feel like I have my stabilisers on when it comes to ‘creative’ writing.
Even thinking about doing this reminds me to be more respectful of authors when I edit, as I have talked about before. They’ve been through a lot to get to the point of having their work edited. And they are trusting us with their baby.
The great thing about being an editor should be that we help others get their own message out. In this harsh world, our work is vital, and we should always try to remember that we are there to build people up, not shout them down. It’s not our job to admonish, but to support and sometimes to advise. We can play a part in keeping channels of communication open, which is important right now as the bullies get louder. We can help all kinds of people feel better about what they are trying to say. We can make sure they are heard.
Liz Jones has worked as an editor in the publishing industry since 1998, and has been freelance since 2008. She likes helping people express themselves in writing.