Getting your words out there puts you in the firing line, as you'll know if you've ever posted (or even merely replied to a post) on Twitter. It's easy to be a critic, and some people will get a thrill from shooting you down. Commentators will be cruel. Your heartrate will rise, you will sweat, you may even feel sick. It's worse than that embarrassing text you sent to your ex. Far worse. Everyone can read what you said, and even if you edit it, chances are someone thought to screengrab. Post once, regret forever.
And this is even more pertinent if you’re writing fiction, especially if your characters come from a demographic that is not your own. Which can be a bit restricting. If you are middle-aged, middle-class, white, straight, cis-gendered, and neurotypical, you may upset someone because your world works in a certain way, and you have not even considered how to think outside of your experience. You might consider yourself to be empathic and open-minded, but your choice of words will betray you.
If you read the previous paragraph and wondered 'what is "cis"?' or 'neurotypical, WTF?', all I can say is that Google is your friend. Get searching. Before you respond to a post, if some of the words you read seem out of context, investigate. Read the views of several sources. The word may mean something significant in a domain that is not your domain.
What I'm talking about here is privilege. You may not know you have it. You may scoff at it. You may have heard of it, and not believe you have it, or have a right to claim that you're not as privileged as all that (if that is the case, I advise you, as a human, to google 'intersectionality'). Chances are, you have some form of privilege. If you're being paid to write, it is exceedingly likely that you have many. That's how the demographics stack up.
But as a writer, you'd probably like some of your characters to not be middle-aged, middle-class etc etc. I presume. Because otherwise your work is likely to be aimed at an exceedingly narrow audience (unless you want to write about adultery in Hampstead*, in which case, go right ahead).
So how can you navigate the minefield that is today's connected world?
My advice would be to get online. Flex your muscles. Dare to comment in online fora. There are some fascinating Facebook groups which are likely to educate the more middle-aged, middle-class reader. At first read you might wonder what on earth is going on. Just stick with it. The light will start to dawn. If it doesn’t, follow the links. Join other groups. Join groups you disagree with, and lurk on them. Channel your inner investigative journalist. Words are your domain, and words are never value-free.
You will be insulted, in this virtual world, and conflict is just as emotionally difficult online as it in in a supermarket queue or a pub car park. At some point, you will get stabbed in the probity, which is surprisingly painful. I did once leave a group because of a gaffe of the 'but how can it not be OK to say that' type, which is, I learn, not a defence. Not in this connected world.
Google some more. Bing, or Ecosia, if you have a mind to. Read what you've written before you publish. Think of that drunk text to your ex, then multiply the embarrassment by thousands. Or tens of thousands, if you’re that popular.
While you're there, be careful where you place your post. Make sure you're commenting on the thing you think you're commenting on, or a ton of bricks will fall on you as the world thinks you are OK-ing something you actually hate.
Don’t read on until you’ve done all the above. Come back in a month’s time when the scabs have healed over.
OK, are you now fully understanding of what an SJW has to put up with in terms of expectations of perfection? Did that boy who flamed you turn out to be an incel? Have you made comments that kept the gammons on the boil? Or did the snowflakes freeze your arse?
Now that you've been burnt, freezer-burnt, spit-roasted and generally are a bit more woke**, read on.
You've learnt that not everyone has had your life experiences. You still want to write that novel about someone whose life experience differs from your own. Go ahead. Research the hell out of it. Write the damn book with all your heart and soul. Throw yourself into it. Read my blog on Method Writing.
And then, one final step. Get yourself a sensitivity reader.
Translation: find someone who may understand the experience of your fictional other. Get them to read your story. Get their mates to join in. Not everyone is the same. Listen to what your protagonist has to say.
You will still get bad press and sleepless nights, but at least you will have tried to walk in the shoes of someone else. And as a writer, that time spent in a place of imagination - in another world? That is the most valuable thing, is it not?
*I love Iris Murdoch, and like most novelists, she wrote the same book at least once. John Irving's books, similarly, are arguably not so much novels as a random reshuffle of plot points about wrestling, bears, and amputation. (In case you think that's a criticism: Hell, no.)
**This word will shortly be going out of service as a fashionable item.