If You’re Afraid of Getting Canceled, Stop Writing.

What I’ve found since I started writing again is my voice, actually. I have a lot to say on American culture that isn’t necessarily being said by anyone else. At least not in the way I would say it.

Photo by Miguel Perales on Unsplash

Years before we called anything “cancel culture,” there was a man I was spending some time with as I cut my teeth on the ins and outs of blogging professionally.

He was a writing tutor at the local community college, and he kept an eye on my work, which at the time was the most exciting new thing happening in my life. We’d get dinner together about once a week, he’d ask me how things were going, and he’d offer a few tips here and there.

One of the things he said to me was probably the best piece of both writing and life advice I’ve ever received so far:

“If you’re afraid of what people are going to say, you’ll never be a writer.”

That’s the trick, ain’t it? If you’re not careful, ignoring everything people say or do will turn you into a doormat for all kinds of abusive bullshit. I’ve certainly been there. On the other hand, care too much about other people, and you spend all your time sparing with them until there’s no time left to do what you really love and showed up to do.

Then of course, there’s the other party in this equation. You see, it’s not just us that cares or doesn’t care about what anyone thinks of our writing. There’s this whole subsection of our audiences who fancy themselves the ultimate arbiters of genre, brand, politics, and reality. Where past generations of these enlightened few had to wait until the next issue of whatever magazine or journal to air their grievances, today’s literary elites can and will tear you apart instantaneously — often without more than a cursory scan of the piece you spent hours if not days composing.

Fred, my mentor, gave me that piece of advice as I broke down in tears over internet trolls while we waited for our food at a burger joint on the edge of town. Truthfully, I don’t even recall what was so upsetting. I think it was primarily that in my mind, I’d built up getting hired to write as the level in this hobby-slash-career where my voice mattered. I wasn’t just shouting into the void any longer. I wasn’t just another yahoo with a profile.

This was a paid gig. And of course people respect real writers, right? Haha! Yeah, at that level your job description shifts from not just not letting trolls get to you, but actively baiting them to help your work reach a wider audience, grab more hits, and pay you bigger bucks.

Not everyone is cut out for that. If you struggle with sharing opinions online without it being tied to your view count and paycheck, you’re going to have a rough time. I had to figure that one out on my own.

For years I actually stopped writing all together. I couldn’t even journal. I’d go back and re-read what I’d written, pick it apart, rip it out of the book, and burn it myself. I burned an entire novel manuscript — and I stand by that — the trolls didn’t deserve the opportunity to trash it.

When I have written, I’ve managed to piss off a lot of people over the years. Sometimes I’ve even lost friends — and acquaintances, who think I seem pretty cool in person, but for whatever reason think we have to agree on everything for our relationship to be salvaged.

If you want to make friends, you should probably stop writing.

Or learn to sate yourself on writing things no one really cares about. When I joined Medium just a few months ago, I thought that’s what I’d do. I thought that would be enough. You see, if you’re a writer, you can’t just stop. Not even ripping apart your journals and burning them yourself will stop you.

Writing is an addiction. Don’t ever publish a book or submit to a magazine, if that scares you.

What I’ve found since I started writing again is my voice, actually. I have a lot to say on American culture that isn’t necessarily being said by anyone else. At least not in the way I would say it.

And I have to write it. I have to write it so bad that I get up every single morning and pump out at least 1,500 words before breakfast.

The other day I got my first message through this site warning me about cancel culture like we live under Stalin and not in the gawddamned States of America. “You’re going to piss someone off,” they said. “I could never write about that.”

It made me realize that I’ve been that person. I’ve been too afraid to write. To even think outside the ideological echo chambers of this society. And it made me appreciate something else I haven’t lost during the pandemic year.

I lost almost everything — my office, my entire business and the career I built when not being a writer, the future I envisioned all of that leading up to — it’s just gone. I got to keep my life though. And I got to keep everything that’s part of that core person I am in this world.

That core me? He’s a writer. He’s not going to stop. And right now at least, for the first time in his life, he’s not got anything else to lose.

I don’t have an employer trolls can mob to try and get me fired. I don’t have a landlord they can egg on to evict me. Really the best anyone’s got is trying to get a hold of my dad to lodge a complaint about a belief we more than likely share. Good luck!

I realize I write that from a place of privilege too. It hasn’t always been like that for me, and the threat of internet mobs has felt too real and too capable of throwing me out like garbage for most of my career as a writer so far. You don’t get a lot of support in this — and that’s not an appeal for “writer” to turn into the next big oppressed identity craze.

Editors love a little drama to keep the traffic coming, but even the good ones can’t offer much in the way of your sense of security — and the best ones will even toss you to the wolves if it makes for a good show. Fans are with you until they aren’t. And your inner circle has your back only to a slightly more intimate degree.

There’s a lot to lose in being a writer. Most people can’t make it over that barrier to entry.

If you’re afraid of being canceled, just stop.

Save yourself the heartache.

Pick up a shift as a barista instead.