There is a problem most new writers face that goes something like this; they show their work to their friends, who (naturally) applaud it … and then they discover, when they post it online or send it to editors, that people who have no personal stake in their happiness don’t have to shower it with praise. It grows worse when strangers, who only know the writer from his writing, make unpleasant remarks about what sort of person the writer must be.
A writer can take this personally; indeed, one of the pieces of advice handed out to people who want to try their hand at writing is to develop a thick skin. Critical comments always hurt, particularly when the commenter accuses the writer of being mad/bad/dangerous to know/etc. However, when there is little else to go on, a reader may find his or her judgements influenced by the written word. SM Stirling, for example, took a great deal of flak for the Draka books; Tom Kratman has been accused (unjustly) of everything from racism to misogyny.
This problem only grows worse when a writer produces opinion pieces (like this blog post <grin>). It showcases the writer’s talents and exposes his flaws; for example, if I were to assert that Mars is the fifth planet out from the sun, my readers would accuse me of total research failure. Or, if I were to admit to something stupid, my readers might think that I was stupid.
Many writers miss the fundamental point in all of this. We have a right to write (hah), but not a right to convince. No one automatically embraces my point of view. I have to actually work to convince my readers of something – and while I have a right to try, I do not have a right to succeed.
The smart writers learn from their critics. They listen to them, they adapt their arguments … and they sometimes realise that they’re wrong. A fresh eye can point out mistakes that tired eyes might miss. The stupid writers either silence their critics (perhaps by barring them from their websites) or stop writing.
All of this leads back to my prior article on Heidi Yewman – and more recent developments.
My Month With a Gun was apparently intended to be a month-long series of reports, based around Heidi’s adventures with – shock, horror – a gun. Instead, according to several posts online (one of which appears to have vanished), the series has been cancelled. (And then moved to the Huffington Post, according to the comments.) Apparently, the staff of Heidi’s magazine were overwhelmed by the negative comments they received from pro-gun advocates. These eventually included suggestions that she should be arrested (for reckless endangerment, perhaps?) to posting her address online.
[I should feel sorry for her, at least over the latter. But as anti-gun campaigners were quite happy to share the addresses of people who owned guns online, I find that my sympathy is limited.]
According to the GUN REPORT, Ms Magazine had expected a ‘high-minded debate about guns.’ If true, this was folly. It was folly because Heidi Yewman, while penning her opinion piece, comes across as someone inflicted with wilful stupidity. As I noted beforehand, she took possession of a deadly weapon without knowing how to use it, walked up to a cop with a weapon she didn’t know how to use (what would have happened if the cop had thought she was attacking him and shot first?) and took a weapon into a crowded coffee shop. (You know, the place she wanted to ban guns from in the first place?)
I don’t know her personally. To me, she comes across as an idiot who deliberately endangered innocent people (and herself). Maybe she isn’t this way in real life, but I – and almost all of her readers – have no way of knowing that. We can only go by what we read in her article.
In addition, as others have pointed out, Heidi may have misrepresented her facts in the interests of promoting her political point of view – or lied outright.
There is no point in entering into a ‘high-minded debate’ with a person who acts like an idiot and misrepresents the facts. To paraphrase a line from Dr Johnston, Heidi’s position and actions are simply not worthy of rational debate.
But why cancel the series? (If, of course, it has been cancelled?)
The GUN REPORT asserts that this is a case of bullying, that the NRA forced the magazine to cancel the rest of the series. I have no idea if the NRA was actually involved, but could it be that the article was attacked because it deserved attack? The facts as presented by Heidi make her seem wilfully stupid and criminally reckless; the analysis of the article elsewhere make her seem either ignorant or a liar.
No one has a right to expect nothing but praise.
In this case, Heidi – and her editor – would have done better to listen to the critics. And hire a better fact-checker.