Are Writers Allowed To Express Political Opinions?

 

by Allison Maruska

The title is one that I hope will spark some constructive discussion. I’ve asked myself the question many times since the election and on certain days when I find myself glued to my Twitter feed.

I realize the title itself may cause a few to bristle. Everyone is “allowed” to say whatever the hell they want. I’ve mostly kept my political opinions off public forums, and the reason for that is simple: I don’t want them to affect my reputation as a writer in any direction. When I post an opinion, I’m posting not just as myself but also as my brand. I want people to buy and read my books, and getting on my soap box could harm that effort.

But sometimes I wonder: could adding to public discourse perhaps attract new readers?

I write fiction, and anyone reading my books can probably figure out where I stand on certain issues. The Fourth Descendant offers a hint at my thoughts on Big Pharma. Drake and the Fliers enlightens you to my stance on gay rights. Project Renovatio and its successors show some of my position on GMOs and profiling. How we view the world will always come through in our work, so saying what we think on social media may not even be necessary.

If I wrote nonfiction, expressing my opinion on issues relevant to my topic would be obviously justified or even expected. But even nonfiction writers run the risk of alienating potential readers if they become too polarized.

This week, the President blocked Stephen King on Twitter.

J.K. Rowling then stepped up and offered to DM Trump’s tweets to King (not gonna lie – that made me laugh). Now, King and Rowling are writers, and anyone who spends five minutes on Twitter knows where they stand politically. They are “allowed” to say what they think.

But…

They are Stephen King and J.K. Rowling. They can say what they want and still have massive followings and be millionaires.

I think the vast majority of the rest of us have to be more careful.

I’ve watched from the sidelines as writing partners cut ties over an online argument based on differing political opinions. Neither changed the other’s stance, and what was once a constructive working relationship was over. Both sides probably felt vindicated, but big picture, nobody won.

The few times I have expressed political opinions online haven’t always gone very well. I’ve basically been told to shut up and/or have been called a name I find so disgusting I won’t repeat it in this space. While my instinct in those cases was to fight and win, I either sought common ground or stepped away. Following my instinct might show those who agree with me that I’m not afraid and am fighting for a greater cause, but if in the end it costs me sales and hurts my family financially, it’s not worth it.

Maybe someday I’ll be a big enough name that I can express what I think without worrying about the consequences (I’m just going to sit back and enjoy that possibility for a minute). But even if that does happen, I’m not sure I’ll freely indulge. I remember a time when politics went mostly undisclosed – my mom taught me it was rude to ask someone which way they voted. The reason was relationship was more important than dying on a hill. Some of the kindest people I know are those whose political stances are not obvious (yes, those people do exist in today’s climate).

That said, I want to make sure I’m not misunderstood. It’s important to stand up for causes you believe in, but we have to do it constructively – that means in ways that aren’t bickering on the internet. Call your senators. Sign petitions. Vote. If you don’t like how “the other side” treats a specific group, support that group with donations or volunteer hours. It may be cliche, but actions really do speak louder than words.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.

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37 thoughts on “Are Writers Allowed To Express Political Opinions?”

  1. We all have a voice and how each of us respectfully expresses it in either art or online is better than being silenced by others or by governments. Lucky for us we still live in a free and open country. We all struggle to what we should and shouldn’t say anymore, just remember we still have a choice.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I think writers should be allowed to express political views, it is part of what makes you a writer? Although I have to agree with you it’s not a way to win ‘hearts and minds’ unless you are immensely popular. My first blogs were political, social justice and all that. No one read them 😜

    Liked by 5 people

    1. You are putting your emotions ahead of good business sense. You can never really win politically and it doesn’t matter how loud you are or how smart you think you are. Everyone is already entrenched in their views and I hardly think that those who are more than ready for a good fight are not looking for a debate but want to show how snarky and clever they think they are.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. 1) Everything is politics at heart
    2) Not sure when this post was originally written, but it’s dated today, 1st December, and Trump blocked King months ago.
    3) Look to the past: Shelley called on artists and writers (particularly poets) to be the unacknowledged legislators of the world. That means it is down to us to watch and warn, to be the voice calling out villainy and unfairness. Anything less is selling out…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I get what you’re saying, but I think it really depends on what you are writing. A romance novel doesn’t necessarily need to be political. Same can apply to fantasy, although fantasy can provide a plethora of opportunities to relate events and politics in the story to our own world. Just look at Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
      It’s unfortunate when artists are torn between wanting to stay true to their principles and speak up when they feel the need, and not wanting to harm their chances to be successful in their craft. We should be judged as writers on our work, not on our personal views.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I agree to an extent. Some things are more inherently political than others. But even a romance novelist makes choices about his/her characters that touch on political: do the characters represent the writer’s background racially, socially, or economically? Whether the answer it “yes” or “no” the decision to write it that way was political to some extent.

        I agree that it’s unfortunate when artists feel torn between artistic principles and their chances of commercial success. But I don’t know if we should judge writers only on their craft. A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with someone who asked “If you really liked Hitler’s artwork, would you still feel comfortable hanging it up, knowing who he was and what he did?” For me the answer is “no”. Yes, that’s an extreme example, but I think the point remains. I think that all art is a representation of the artist to some extent. That extent can vary (as you point out) depending on the work and the intention of that work. But I think think you can ever fully separate them.

        That’s not to say I haven’t/wouldn’t read and love the work of writers with whom I disagree politically. I have before and I will again! I don’t really pretend those issues don’t exist, but I can make the separation, usually.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. I think where art is concerned, if I really liked someone’s work, regardless of who that person is, I would hang it up. The thing is, people are complex, multifaceted. There is usually good and bad in everyone, and yes, even in the likes of Hitler. I don’t have to like or agree with someone to understand them. Years ago, my algebra teacher said to me, when I was flunking class, “I understand, but I don’t condone.” Understanding is not the same as condoning something. I can find things to admire in the worst person, and things to despise in the best, and vice versa. But like you said, these are extreme cases, and not the norm. Most writers and artists people admire tend to fall somewhere closer to the middle ground, I expect, and I can’t really say that I’ve been faced with that kind of confliction.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Amen. I’ve always jumped into the fray–especially to defend the rights of other human beings. If that offends certain individuals, then those are not people I want to attract in the first place.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Romance novels are definitely political. A writer needn’t directly state their political opinions for those opinions to become evident in their work. If a book so much as contains a woman character who walks around in a T-shirt and drives a car, it contains content that is not just political but downright radical in some eras and societies. If it happens to be a same-sex or interracial romance it could still be considered controversial in large swaths of modern America. The range of narratives that we perceive as relatable, interesting or plausible are all mediated by political questions and assumptions. Every act of expression is political.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Sure, it can, but if the romance is within what is considered the norm of the times, then it does not have to be political. Sure, the writers opinions might be apparent, but it certainly doesn’t have to ruffle any feathers.

        Like

      6. It sounds like we may mean different things by political. I dont think something has to be controversial to be political- reinforcing the norms of your society is as political as disrupting them, it’s just better for business.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I think artists have a unique opportunity to express themselves through their art. Storytellers in particular can explore almost any contemporary issue within the framework of a fictional story, which often makes it more accessible, I feel.

    I think one compromise could be to express opinions about issues, rather than individuals. For example, one could say “I feel the risk, and history, of large scale oil pipelines, make them a dangerous venture, and one we should discontinue.” It might be more palatable than saying “I disapprove of (a specific politician who supports oil pipelines).”

    At the end of the day I agree everyone should feel free to express themselves, but I also think many are not prepared to have a polite dialogue about views they don’t agree with, which is regrettable.
    There is risk involved, but I think if someone feels strongly about an issue, they should express themselves, as long as they are comfortable risking their platform in the process.

    But yeah, I think it’s less a matter of “should”, and more a question of “is the author aware and comfortable with the risks?” If yes, then I don’t think anyone has the right to tell them it’s wrong to express themselves. That’s what artists do, take personal thoughts and turn them into media that they share with the world.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I agree with you… I realize that yes, we should feel comfortable expressing ourselves, but then we might make the decision not to, for whatever reason. If we decide not to, however, for whatever reason, I don’t think we should be criticized for it.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. I don’t mind reading an opinion if the person is well-versed in what they know on the topic. I have my own thoughts on many things, but I feel free to write what is on my mind. Save the thoughts if they are too, verbose. Get to the point, and say what you mean.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Very well said. There’s really nothing more to add. Maybe, if a writer wants to express themselves somewhat, it should be kept to a minimum, and always remain polite and respectful of other’s opinions. I admit that it’s very tempting for me to comment on my thoughts, though I do try to restrain myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I try to stay away from posting anything political online. I just think it opens a can of worms that you might regret later. I hadn’t thought about representing yourself as a brand name. It makes a ton of sense. Our writing is a reflection of ourselves and can be used to express an opinion about issues personal to us. For most of us, we have to tread lightly, unless we make the conscious choice to not hide behind our books. I know I’ve written posts about certain events, but I try to leave politics out of it and stick to how it affects me.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I actually really liked this post. I’ve been told I shouldn’t state my opinion on anything because it will cause me to lose readers. Let’s be honest, my stubborn side says, “Do I really want those readers if they believe in such and such?” but the realistic side is, politics are politics. EVERYONE is going to have an opinion and it’s rare it’ll line perfectly with someone else’s.

    I will say something if I feel very strongly about it and can support my opinion with facts. Otherwise, I stay out of it. The same with the whole #metoo and all the sexual harrassment garbage that’s been trending lately.

    Personally, I wish Twitter had a feature where you could click a box and choose exactly the types of posts you want to see. WITHOUT having to mute 500 people, thus missing the good they post, or taking time away from clicking individuals. Just exhausting.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Aren’t opinions what make a lot of blogs interesting? Aren’t we all entitled to opinions? If you lose some readers, so what! More will fill their place, and the world will continue to spin. Good post!

    Like

  10. I talk about politics a lot on Facebook, but very little on my blog. I talk a lot about God and my faith on both about equally. Politics is more of a sore spot with most people; although I’ve had a couple tell me I talked too much about God.

    Like

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