Friday, August 01, 2014

Think Before I Write

When I first started blogging, I used to write all sorts of nonsense. After all, I thought, nobody reads this blog. On one particular day, I wrote about a mundane visit to a bookshop and decided to spice it up by replacing a real person with a slightly villainous Dickensian character, adding grotesque details for comic effect.

In those days, it wouldn't have occured to me that people could confuse my fiction with the real person.

But today, I received an email from the owner's distraught wife, appalled by my portrayal of her husband. My first reaction was to think, "But I wasn't writing about your husband", then I reread the blog post and realised how naive I had been to think that the fiction was self-evident.

Needless to say, I was mortified and have apologised, along with removing the offending post. This blog is supposed to be mildly entertaining, so the knowledge that I have unwittingly hurt someone is deeply upsetting.

Over the years, I've grown to realise that a simple blog post can make waves. In my case, those waves are the very minor ripples that one would find in the boating pond of a municipal park, but it still calls for a degree of responsibility and self-awareness.

Perhaps I should have listened to Vladimir Putin, who takes blogging far more seriously than me. Today, the Russian parliament have just passed a law, requiring any blogger with more than 3000 hits a day to register with a state regulator. Opponents of Putin, like Gary Kasparov, have been effectively silenced.

I used to think that blogging was just a space to present ideas - an artificial universe that was only tenuously connected to the world we live in. But, today, I have realised that once the words are out there, anything can happen.


Kid said...

I don't remember if I ever read that particular post or not, but if you exaggerated a character to the point of invention and the lady still recognised him, perhaps your description of her hubby was a more accurate picture than you thought. In which case, do you really have anything to be sorry for? Anyway, some people are determined to be offended, I've found, and will usually find something to complain about. Why not just rewrite the post in such a way that the woman can't object to?

Steerforth said...

Kid - Well, I think she was just being a loyal wife, but it wasn't her husband. It's a little like the problems novelists face when people object to being featured in their books, even though the characters are all fiction.

These days, I find enough comic material in real life without having to add Dickensian characters.

Kid said...

It's a shame you deleted the post. I'd simply have reassured her that the character was not her husband and that she needn't be offended. I'm sure I can't be the only visitor to your blog who'd now really like to read that post. Sounds like a good 'un.

Steerforth said...

Thanks Kid, I'll republish the post once I've looked at it again properly.

Canadian Chickadee said...

So true.

I don't have a blog site like yours, but I do have a facebook page. Sometimes my "readers" can be quite political. I too can be quite outspoken -- Sadly in this day and age, actual physical harm, not just virtual harm, is a real possibility, so I am learning to tone down the rhetoric.

I did have one exchange that scared me - some woman I'd never heard of wrote to me at my home address, and sent me a snail mail note to thank me for a card I hadn't sent. She was a cancer patient and has since died, and I think I'd sent her a "get well soon" comment via someone else's blog site.

She meant no harm, fortunately, but the fact that it was apparently so easy for her to find out my true name and home address was quite scary, and a reason to be wary.

I love your posts, Steerforth, and hope that you will continue to publish and flourish. xoxox

Rob said...

This is my favourite blog because it's one of the few blogs out there that are not written to persuade or sell.

It's your focus on the curious inconsequentialities of life around books that keeps me coming back.

Travellin' Penguin- Pam said...

I have put forward your name and blog on my page as a Most Inspiring Blogger. If you wish to participate I’m sure people would enjoy it. You really are a good inspiration and all a good blogger should be.
Pam (Travellin’ Penguin)

Steerforth said...

Carol - I avoid politics and religion for those very reasons. Looking at the abusive comments that populate the so-called 'discussion boards' of various newspapers has made me determined to stick to less devisive topics.

But even then, I still manage to unwittingly offend. A casual remark on the dubious benefits of learning Esperanto instead of a real language prompted a strongly-worded comment (do the Esperanto people police the internet for negative comments?). I also said how impressed I was that there so few fat people in Normandy, given their penchant for cheese and butter, which prompted another comment (I'm not exactly Twiggy, but as my father died from heart disease I do find obseity a concern).

So if you write and put it in the public domain, it's not always possible to second-guess people's reactions.

Rob - Thanks. For me, the blog is simply a means of sharing ideas and observations and through it, I've been introduced to some wonderful books and places. I'm very glad that some people enjoy it.

Pam - That's very kind of you. I enjoyed reading the facts about your life - both sorry about your illness and relieved that it hasn't been as bad as it could have been. Tasmania is a place I've always been intrigued by and you clearly love it. I shall look at the other blogs you've recommended (Thomas and Karyn are already firm favourites).

Little Nell said...

Yes, we’re all nicel tantalised now so don’t leave it too long before you re-post.................I love Dickens!

Canadian Chickadee said...

It's a difficult line to walk, isn't it, Steerforth? People are so quick to take offense these days, even when none is intended. I do try to be sensitive to people's personal beliefs, but sometimes you can be so sensitive and politically correct that you are left with nothing to say. xoxox

zmkc said...

Your blog is more than mildly amusing - it's an oasis. I like it very much.

Steerforth said...

Thank you - much appreciated.