The Internet Is Stupid
The Internet is stupid. No, really, I understand that the Internet is an incredible invention, capable of sharing mind-boggling amounts of information is less time than it takes me to think "Huh? I wonder what..?" but at the same time the Internet itself, the nebulous, cloudy entity formed out of those endless reams of information, is deeply, deeply stupid.
This is because, while the Internet does indeed contain all sorts of fascinating facts and useful information, a not-insignificant amount of the information it contains is, to put it mildly, mis-. Or even dis-. Of course this isn't a trait limited to the Internet alone: you'll often hear that you shouldn't use Wikipedia for research because* absolutely anyone can write in it, but, while they may have to pass the scrutiny of editors and publishing houses*** in the end anyone could write a book, too.
I mean, I did that.
And, while a book on the shelf remains static even when new, revised editions are produced, a webpage can be easily edited to make sure that the information it contains is accurate and up to date. Still the Internet is stupid.
It's stupid because not everyone cares about making sure their information is accurate or up to date, it's stupid because there is so much information it can seem impossible to tell the facts from the hopeful fictions, and it's stupid because a not infinitesimal number of Netizens (or whatever the blasted word is) actively enjoy spreading disinformation just for the hell of it.**** And, of course, it's especially stupid on social media. Social media is a wonderful realm in which you can connect with friends or colleagues, share your interests, and, with a little work, never meet a single soul who disagrees with you. The power of the echo chamber is well known by now, as is that of the algorithms used in most social media to show you "More of the Same" or things "Based on your likes" to shift or harden the mindset of the unwary viewer.
It is a truism that while individuals are intelligent, crowds are stupid. Social media is one enormous crowd.
The Internet, and social media in particular, are stupid in part because the nature of the medium controls the nature of the message. There is little nuance in a post on social media. There are no facial expressions***** so we have to guess when someone's being flippant, or sarcastic, or else take their words at face value. Emoticons and emoji exist, but are used in such varying ways that they can't be counted on to indicate much in the way of meaning. Word or character limits, especially on Twitter, mean that concepts have to be simplified, and this, combined with the bravado that seems to hit some people once they are hidden safely behind a screen, means that posts on social media are often blunter, and far more opinionated than they would be in real life. I mean, of course I'm going to complain about it: I can never stop going off at tangents, or explaining myself, and I'm basically addicted to asterisks.****** Social media, and Twitter in particular, were not designed for me. But I'm on social media, and I'm even on Twitter, and I'm mostly on Twitter because I write, and because a beloved friend told me I should be, so of course I'm on Writing Twitter or whatever it calls itself, which means I can bring this whole post back more or less on-topic because Writing Twitter is possibly the stupidest place on Earth. Off Earth. Orbiting it. Bouncing off the satellites, or running through the ether or however it is the ruddy thing works. Look, I'm a writer, not an engineer. The point is that Writing Twitter is absolutely full of very blunt, very strongly held opinions and they are all of them very stupid indeed. Of course it's also full of all sorts of lovely, creative, brilliant people, which is why I have yet to scream and run away to hide under a rock in some hidden valley where even dial-up will not reach, but that's not the part I'm talking about right now. A lot of people on Writing Twitter have some very firm ideas of how one should or should not write, and they like to announce these ideas in one of two ways.
A: a plain statement "This is bad and if you do this you are a bad writer." Or B: a poll "Do you do this?" followed, once sufficient people have answered in both the affirmative and the negative with an explanation that one answer or the other was bad and anyone who chose that is a bad writer. Obviously I have my own opinions on how to, or how not to write: I can't imagine any writer not having those sort of opinions. That's how a writer develops their own style, after all. But my opinions are mine, they belong to me, and I don't see any reason to go forcing them down everyone else's throats******* You'll never catch me Saving The Cat, for example, but if you want to then you should absolutely do it. It worked in The Cat Returns, after all. To give you some idea of how stupid and opinionated Twitter, and other writerly corners of the Internet can be, I have compiled a list of Things You Must Never Do When Writing. According to the Internet, that is. Never, Never, Never:
Start with dialogue.
Start with a description
Start in the middle of the action
Start in any way except in the middle of the action
Start with an actual action scene
Start with your character waking up
Start by explaining what's going on
Start without explaining your world and what's going on
Start with exposition
Write in the first person
Write in the second person
Write from multiple points of view
Use long sentences
Use short sentences
Use non-fronted adverbials
Write a character too like yourself
Write any characters unlike yourself
Use tropes. Any tropes at all. Ever.
Re-use the same word
Use italics for emphasis
Capitalise for emphasis
Forget to use CAPITALS for emphasis
Use the em dash --
Underuse the em dash
Use any dashes other than the em dash
Write too formally
Write in slang
Write in dialect
Write in coffee shops (no, really).
And probably a lot of other things that I didn't take note of at the time.
Try to follow all these rules and, unless you have a back like a duck's for the words to spill off of, you'll end up feeling absolutely wrung out, convinced that nothing you write will ever be of acceptable quality, and wondering whether there's any more room under that internet-free rock I mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago. Which is silly. Because none of these rules are rules. They're opinions. And not very good ones at that. As long as your spelling and grammar are correct -- or intentionally, recognisably incorrect -- for the language you are writing in, then there is only one rule you need to follow: Write what you want to write in the way that you want to write it. I can't promise that it will get you published, or that your work won't come back from your editor littered with annotations and question marks, and I'm certainly not saying you shouldn't look at those annotations and question marks when they come back, to see whether they make sense.
But the only way to write your book, or your blog, or your article, is to write it your way, following your own rules, and damning anybody else's. Take critique gracefully, when you have invited it, and for the rest, remember: The Internet is very, very stupid. (And if you ever wonder, late at night, whether perhaps the Internet is right, and you shouldn't have started your narrative with a fight scene, halfway through the story, during which the first person narrator explains everything that has happened so far to the secondary point-of-view character, then I recommend taking a look at some of the things that the opinionated people on the Internet have written. In all probability you won't even like them. But even if you do, you probably wouldn't want to write like them.
Besides, I'm sure "Never be derivative" was somewhere in that list.)
*This is not the reason you should not use Wikipedia for research**. The main reason you shouldn't be citing Wikipedia in your articles or essays is that Wikipedia is constantly being edited, and it's not a lot of use citing "Wikipedia" as your reference if the information in question isn't there when someone tries to follow your reference up. Look to see where the information on Wikipedia came from. Follow that reference up. Check the sources, make sure they're trustworthy and relevant. Then cite that reference instead. **But it is the one that's mostly spread around the Internet. You see what i mean? ***And "may" these days is very much the operative word. ****You may have heard, for example, of the White Power "OK" sign. Except that the "Ok" sign had never had anything to do with any sort of power, white or otherwise. Some rather pathetic individuals decided it would be funny to convince people that it did, so they mocked up a few images, added captions backing up their claims, and launched them into the net. Soon people all over the place had begun talking about the "Ok" sign being a White Power symbol, and very soon actual White Power racists started to use it as a gesture. Presumably to indicate how very small their brains are. *****Yes, obviously, unless it's a photograph or a video, but you know what I mean. Or you think you do. ****** You see? ******* Except for the one about Christmas babies, but that's less a strongly held opinion and more a desperate plea. Please, write something different: she makes my life a[n utter] misery every time that plot comes up.