Write Tip: The Power And Value Of Discretion For Writers

I love this quote from The Guardian

The novelist China Miéville said self-censorship was both inevitable and desirable. “There are millions of things we shouldn’t say. We self-censor all the time, and a bloody good thing too. Our minds are washing machines full of crap that we pick up over our years on this earth.

“One of the problems [in this debate] is the elision between having the legal right to say something (and I don’t trust the state to tell me when I can and can’t say something) and having the moral right not to be told off for saying something objectionable.

“This is why the free speech warrior who thinks they have the right to say what they like and then complain when someone complains – that’s not censorship. Censorship is when the police come round.”

This ties into something I’ve been saying about social media and Facebook for a while now. I learned a long time ago to use discretion. In part, because as an ADHD person, I tend to be blunt and just blurt things out. But I also have learned that picking one’s battles is important. Even the most seemingly innocuous comment these days can be taken out of context and blown into major drama, but comment about politics and religion and forget about it!

For writers, being creative people of passion, it can be hard to exercise this important tool. Discretion can feel like censorship but it really isn’t. Discretion, like many rules and laws, is a tool to enable people to live civilly side by side despite their differences. Some people have good judgement, some don’t. So some need these tools more than others.

I don’t subscribe to the school of “say whatever the hell you want, damn the consequences!” and most authors can’t afford to either. For widespread success, at least, one’s writings need to cross boundaries, which means appealing to a lot of different people of varied backgrounds, beliefs, cultures and understandings. It’s hard to do that if you’re constantly throwing out there shocking statements, bold statements, etc. Yes, there are times to rock the boat. There are some issues one pursues with passion because it has to be done. But even then, choosing how you say what you say is an important consideration not to be taken lightly. Few of us have the audience of Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, John Scalzi, Charlaine Harris, etc. Those are authors who can (and sometimes do) get away with saying things most of us could not. But even they exercise discretion, I’m sure.

Let’s look at some definitions from www.dictionary.com:



1. the power or right to decide or act according to one’s own judgment; freedom of judgment or choice.
2. the quality of being discreet, especially with reference to one’s own actions or speech; prudence or decorum.


Compare that with:



5. to ban or cut portions of (a publication, film, letter, etc.)

6. to act as a censor of (behaviour, etc.)

I think it’s clear they are not exactly the same thing. One involves a decision to act in a certain way out of wisdom and a desire to be appropriate i.e. prudent. The other is a decision to conceal, ban, etc.

Why is discretion both necessary and valuable for writers? In part, I suppose it depends upon how sensitive you are to negative energy. I find it both very distracting and very discouraging.  So much so that I converted my old, longstanding Facebook profile to an author page and selectively re-added “friends” to a new private profile, organized in groups I can use for sorting my wall when I need to. That may seem extreme but a side advantage of it was to give me a huge author page following right off the bat. If saying whatever you want whenever you want is going to lead you to feel irritated, distracted, depressed, etc., then you should carefully consider discretion as a change of course. At the same time, if watching other people say whatever, whenever is causing you to feel those things, you have to consider the value of “friending” and “following.”

For me, I learned my lesson when I was told by a few friends whom I considered real world friends, not just online friends, told me I was too political and open and that it was making them uncomfortable. I started looking at what I was saying and why and realized there were ways to say what I wanted without being as snarky or blunt. I also realized I could choose the best times to comment publicly and leave others for private discussion. So I exercised discretion. The irony is one of the “friends” unfollowed anyway and never made any effort at discretion herself. But you can’t control what other people do, only what you do. And, for me, as one who is kindhearted and focuses on helping and encouraging others, I don’t think the value of saying those things outweighs the value of having those friends to support and encourage. And so I use more discretion. And I don’t feel censored or oppressed because it’s my choice.

It’s similar to how we often deal with loved ones. If you want to stay married, you have to learn not to just blurt out whatever you’re thinking or feeling whenever you want t. You have to learn to control that impulse. The same with raising kids, dealing with siblings, parents, etc. It’s necessary to be discreet sometimes in order to live with others. If you aren’t, you set yourself up for a ton of distracting drama.

So for writers, I believe discretion is both valuable and powerful. It can be empowering. For one, by using discretion, you allow your voice a larger audience and build up a great opportunity to truly have impact by what you write and say. One of the great tools of writing is letting characters speak for you. Let the characters be outrageous and say those things that you don’t. After all, they’re just characters. They’re fictional. It’s a tool used by Aaron Sorkin all the time in his successful movies and TV shows. And he’s not alone. Novelists do it, too. And so can the rest of us. There’s something far more threatening about a real person voicing something than a character or actor playing a part.

It’s valuable to maintain the opportunity and audience to be heard and to sell your work. And it’s valuable to use discretion as a part of cultivating that audience. It’s not about banning your values or thoughts or ideas. It’s not about changing how you think, believe or feel. It’s about finding ways to do all of that productively. And productivity is a key to success.

In our modern world, so is discretion.

I welcome your thoughts in comments. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Top 10 Tips For Using Social Media Well

If you’re at all concerned with marketing yourself or your products, by now you’ve probably heard a million times how important Social Media has become for marketing yourself and connecting with/building an audience of customers. The challenge can be knowing exactly how to go about it without coming across as pushy or self-centered and alienating more people than you draw. Here’s ten tips from successful people who use social media on how you can approach it with greater success:

1) Be The Best You-– “But you can still be you. Uhh, unless “you” just so happen to be some kind of Nazi-sympathizing donkey-molester. In which case, please back slowly away from the social media.” – Chuck Wendig, Author He has a great sense of humor but mixed in is great advice. His point is that you should present yourself well but not whitewashed. Readers want to know YOU not the person you project yourself to be. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be a salesman. Just be you, but a good, likable version. Warts are okay within reason, after all, the human you is the you people want to connect with, but put a little makeup over the warts so they appear their best. The human but attractive you is still the goal.

2) Have The Right Conversations— “Conversations among the members of your marketplace happen whether you like it or not. Good marketing encourages the right sort of conversations.” – Seth Godin It’s not just whom you talk to but how you talk to them. People are talking about your product already. Being a part of the conversation means learning how to talk to them. Don’t be pushy. Don’t sell. Just talk and listen. And listening may be the most important part. Whether you’re a writer or in another profession, finding the conversations you need to hear and engage in, listening first, then joining is the best way to discover the audience for what you sell.

 3) You’re Not In Control— “If you think you are in control, you’re fooling yourself. As soon as you start listening, you realize you’re not in control. And letting go will yield more and better results.” – Charlene Li, Author Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, Type A or not, the tendency is to want to control everything about your marketing, sales, etc. You want to control how people respond. But in truth, you can’t. Of course we all want to sell books and build our audience as authors. We all want to build product awareness and desirability as sales people. Social Media is a great tool. But it’s also a tool you don’t produce. Instead, you use it by participating. And that means, you can’t be in control of anything but yourself. How you act, what you say, how active you are–you can control. But everything else is out of your hands.

4) It’s About Passion—  “Don’t worry; skills are cheap, passion is priceless. If you’re passionate about your content and you know it and do it better than anyone else, even with few formal business skills you have the potential to create a million-dollar business.” – Gary Vee, Author of Crush It It’s less about how skilled you are than how passionate you are. You can build skills, but you can’t build passion. So don’t worry about developing skills, worry about getting across your passion. That, in the end, is what will hook people’s interest in you and your words. There’s nothing more compelling than someone passionate about what they’re selling or discussing.

5) Learn About Them First— “On Twitter, Search is your friend. Are you writing a book about archaeology? See who’s talking about it. Looking for Buddhists? Oh, they’re there. Look for them. Start following them. Start seeing what they’re talking about.”   Chris Brogan, Author/Speaker on Marketing This goes hand in hand with what I said above about how listening may be the most important part. How can you engage with people if you don’t understand what their interests are? Social Media is about conversation and networking and that involves give and take. It’s not about you. It’s about the community. Take the time to get to know the community. Who’s out there? What are they interested in? Why?

6) All Users Are Equal— “There aren’t very many things you can do as a marketer to attract a huge number of highly followed influencers to your content beyond the same tactics that you would use to attract a huge number of ‘normal’ users.”  Dan Zarrella, Social Media Expert Don’t focus on attracting celebrities or people with big lists of followers, focus on attracting people period. All followers will be attracted the same way. There is no short cut to get the big users. All users become followers for the same reasons, in the same ways.

7) It’s About The Long Term— “’Build it, and they will come’ only works in the movies.  Social Media is a ‘build it, nurture it, engage them, and they may come and stay.'” – Seth Godin If you’re not in it for the long term, why should your followers be? It’s not about today, it’s about tomorrow. Like building a good marriage, a house, or a career, Social Media is a long term effort and strategy to be worked on daily. Don’t make it about today. Make it about the long term.

8 ) It’s Called Social NETWORKING— “The most successful marketer becomes part of the lives of their followers. They follow back.”  Marsha Collier, Author Do you remember me mentioning community? It’s called Social NETWORKING for a reason. It’s about interaction, two way. Hand in hand with listening, people will invest in you as much as you invest in them. Yes, celebrities don’t have time to engage with everyone. I get that. Neither do those with thousands of followers. But when you have something to say in response then respond. When you see a cool link someone passed around, share it and credit them. Find ways to encourage and thank your followers for their interest in you by taking an interest in them.

9) It’s Not About Numbers— “Quit counting fans, followers and blog subscribers like bottle caps. Think, instead, about what you’re hoping to achieve with and through the community that actually cares about what you’re doing.” – Amber Naslund, brasstackthinking.com It’s not about how may, it’s about what you say, how you say it and how they connect with it. People who feel that you care about them will care about you. So don’t worry about stats as much as content and interaction. And make every word count. Be real with people above all. They’ll respond to that more than anything.

10) Keep It Informal— “Informal conversation is probably the oldest mechanism by which opinions on products and brands are developed, expressed, and spread.”  Johan Arndt It’s not a website or marketing brochure. It’s not a commercial. It’s not a news feed. It’s your social media feed. Relax and be a real person. Of course you need to watch what you say. The internet, after all, is public. Things can come back to haunt you. But that doesn’t mean you have to be stiff and formal. Relax and enjoy yourself. If you don’t, you won’t fit in, because that, above all else, is what Social Media are about–relaxed conversation.

A few inspirational quotes which have inspired me from various sources. How do you use Social Media? What lessons have you learned? What great quotes do you have? Feel free to share below. I’d love to hear them.

For what it’s worth…