5 Things…Not To Do On the Internet If You Want To Keep Your Sanity

These days half of writing is Tweeting. Or have I got that wrong? Anyway, authors everywhere are being urged towards the be-dazzled empty stage that is SOSHUL MEJEEA and told to perform. Turn tricks! Do a twirl! Dance, Baby! No one puts you in a corner! The sad truth though is that most writers belong in the corner. Preferably with a bag over our heads. It’s safe in the corner! You have a good view of all exits!  If you have the introspective discipline necessary to pore over hundreds of thousands of words rooting out each misuse of a comma, it’s unlikely you are all that social. Unless readers truly think it’s fascinating when we go on Twitter or Facebook and say how many words we did that morning or that we just had some tea?

Didn’t think so.

So here’s this week’s list, to remind us all that however fun and shiny it may be, if this were truly Dirty Dancing and Twitter the stage we got up on at the end, after we did our routine there’d be a deafening silence and they’d bring back on the tone-deaf sister, and NO social barriers would be broken down AT ALL. Engage in these online activities at your peril, for that way lies madness, ostracisation, and possible legal action.

1.       Responding to bad reviews

At some point, you really have to get over being upset by bad reviews. Don’t read them, if you find them so hard. Accept the fact that having a book out means you’re in the lucky position of having total strangers read your words, shorn of all knowledge about how nice you are and how you always let hedgehogs safely cross the road (much like Annika Rice). Otherwise you end up doing frankly terrifying things like finding out someone’s home address and hassling your publisher to see if this person really did buy your book (bet they loved that), then posting their details on the internet. See here for unparalleled lunacy.


Even million-selling authors have written of how they read every word of reviews and get really upset.  http://www.lisa-jewell.co.uk/2013/01/takes-deep-breath/ I’d have thought selling so much was a clear sign that many people think you’re amazing and those who are giving bad reviews are probably jealous, or maybe don’t like reading, or loved the book but deducted four stars because it looked bigger in the picture (it happens). Either way, they’re perfectly entitled to say what they like. Getting upset may be unavoidable, but responding is something you should never, ever, ever do. Some say you should try everything once, but they’re the kind of people you see at A&E on a Saturday night because they thought it would be interesting to ‘try’ snorting a mixture of Jeyes Fluid and sherbet dib-dabs.

2.       Looking up other people’s  rankings and reviews

It’s like Facebook-stalking the new girlfriend of your ex. Either you’ll be like, ‘she’s hideous, how could he leave me for THAT?’ or you’ll be like, ‘she’s gorgeous. I’m a troll.’ Eyes to the front, people. Don’t be like those runners who fall over because they’re busy trying to see how the Kenyan in lane 4 is getting on. Stay in your lane! I might write that on a post-it as a cool and gnomic motivational tool. Needless to say, I do this one all the bloody time.

3.       Keep track of who unfollowed you on Twitter

Seriously, why do people do this? Isn’t it just courting sorrow? Isn’t it a bit like making a list of all your exes, then going round to their houses to find out exactly why they finished with you? (A good idea for a rom-com and/or multi-selling song by Adele, but less advisable for real people who do not wish to find out what it’s like to be the subject of a restraining order). My followers go up and go down and whilst I notice this more than I wish, I never check to see who it was and I don’t know how. I have quite enough neuroses to be getting on with, thanks.  People unfollow for all kinds of reasons – maybe it was that Twitter ‘bug’ we’re always hearing about (yeah sure) or maybe they think you’re boring or dislike your politics or maybe your wild success has meant the rest of us can no longer bear to read about your life (I sometimes unfollow people because of this reason. Pathetic, but some days I just don’t want to see that you’ve won a prize/sold loads/got a Japanese rights deal/been on telly).

4. Looking at the shortlists for awards when they come out. Despite what that madly optimistic 1% of your brain is telling you, you won’t be on it. Especially if you never actually entered.

5. Scouring the internet for mentions of yourself. There will either be nothing (think twice about setting up an alert for a title with generic words in, like, say ‘The’ or ‘Fall’), or you’ll turn up some nasty review from a man in Hull that will make you cry and then go and find out where he lives and post it on the internet, and then you’ll be right back to Crazy-Making Behaviour 1.


In short, heed the wise words of Irish writer Colm Toibin, speaking at an event last year. ‘Why are you even here? Why are you out? No one gives a fuck about your book. Go home and write.’

Myths about writers in films

Of all the professions regularly committed to celluloid, some are more common than others. Journalist, say. Lawyer. Professor at a university. You rarely see films about binmen or sewage workers, yet someone has that job. Novelist is for some reason also a common trope. Since becoming one myself, I can barely sit through a film without shouting ‘It’s not like that! They’d never be able to afford that car! Their editor would never pick them up from the airport!’ and so on, while weeping bitter tears into the popcorn I had to bring from home, and then struggling to see from under the seat I had to sneak into wearing a large coat and standing on my friend’s shoulders (oh, you see where I’m going with this: being a writer doesn’t pay all that well). Having watched a raft of films over Christmas which featured writers in central roles, I began to identify several common myths about the job. Sorry, everyone, it really isn’t like this.

We mope about and never get on with anything

Really, writing is like any other job. You don’t turn in work, you don’t get paid. You don’t publish anything for a while, you no longer have a publisher and your agent most likely drops you. We don’t have the luxury of sitting around obsessing about our talent and failing to finish anything.

We have pools
I’ve noticed this a lot in American films. Does literally everyone there enjoy their own leisure facilities, complete with sun loungers, or do film-makers believe authors have pots of money?  I have a pool. A pool of vomit my dog left on the floor. Writers don’t live in gorgeous mansions, we live in small flats with odd smells on the landing.

We’re gorgeous and everyone wants to have sex with us

Hollywood thinks writers look like this:






But really we look like this:





This is by no means to diss George R R Martin, who has given more pleasure to the world than Bradley Cooper ever could, topless or no. But mostly, we’re not so hot.

We use old-fashioned typewriters

This one REALLY irritates me. Have you ever tried to type out 100,000 plus words on a wrist-shattering old typewriter? I’m old enough to remember using one as a child and they were rubbish. You had to keep moving the stupid carriage bit and all the keys would mash together, then one would always stop working and you’d have to ink it in, and they were noisy and they hurt your fingers and you couldn’t grow your nails. We spend hours at our computers. We need GOOD ones. Writing for a living doesn’t make you a Luddite, in fact it’s the opposite.

Our agents and editors are there to nursemaid us and mop our brows

Agents and editors usually have several dozen clients to look after, if not more. Despite what films would have you believe, they do not have time to drive us to the airport, pick up our dry-cleaning, or coax us into writing our next book. Ideally we don’t hate each other, but it’s a business relationship above all else.

People have heard of us
About the only realistic film I’ve seen that deals with this is Young Adult, where the main character goes into a bookshop and insists on signing all the stock of the series tie-in novel she wrote, before being restrained by the security guard. That’s what it’s like. You go into shops and say ‘I wrote that’ and the booksellers get a funny look in their eye. ‘Oh no, why do I get all the crazies?’ That kind of look. You meet people at parties and they ask what you’ve written and they say and they go ‘Oh. Is it….on Amazon?’ We don’t go around incognito and getting recognised on the tube from our author cover photos. Firstly because they’re all wildly over-flattering, and secondly because no one cares.
We have lovely tidy desks
Remember the desk of Emma in One Day? Flowers, jar of sharpened pencils, tidiness?

This is my desk. Note tea, sweets, mess everywhere, unpaid bills. Much more realistic.

photo (3)







We get writer’s block
There’s no such thing as a mythical block to writing. There’s writer’s loss of confidence, writer’s written-myself-into-a-corner, writer’s can’t-get-a-good-idea, and writer’s laziness, but that’s it. Having to pay bills is a powerful motivator to crank out some words.

Everyone in our life worships our talent and leaves us alone to get on with it

In films you get situations like Jack’s wife in The Shining agreeing to spend the winter in an obviously haunted halls-full-of-blood, mental head-fuck of a hotel, so her (unpublished) husband can write a novel. In reality you get moaning about why you’ve been staring at your computer so long and your parents questioning whether it wouldn’t have been better to train as an accountant after all and the assumption that ‘working from home’ means ‘free to entertain guests, make tea for tradespeople, and do the ironing’.

Genius equals bouts of suicidal insanity

Hollywood does love a mad genius (see Shine, Proof, Iris, Sylvia…) but in reality there’s a handful of people whose talent was so great it burned them up before 30 and made them bloody miserable most of the time. For most of us, a spark of talent only succeeds when it’s coupled with sitting down every day for years and getting on with it. Millions of people want to write books. Actually finishing one is a different thing altogether.

Our lives are remotely interesting

I write this as respite from a day in which I’ve – walked the dog, been to the post office, made tea for some gasmen, put the washing on, and done my tax return. I can only conclude screenwriters secretly hope they can one day quit that harsh world and be a novelist, all creative and mad and being lusted after. Whereas novelists dream of being screenwriters, mingling at parties with Ryan Gosling and being paid actual money.

Films which proved this theory: Ruby Sparks, Eat Pray Love, Limitless, Romancing the Stone, Young Adult, One Day, Misery, The Shining, etc etc