I read Becca Fitzgerald's blog post, "Be Nice" with interest, but the juicy part was the reaction online. Her thesis is that as authors we should be nice to people because you never know whose good opinion you might need some day. The reaction included some "Hear, hear!" but it also included a good bit of derision.
If I understand the backlash, it's that the "Be Nice" movement is telling writers (who are, obviously, consumers of other writers' work, and may even be reviewers/bloggers/commenters) to censor their honest opinion of specific books and their authors. In other words, by being "nice" we're caving in to some stupid peer pressure just because The Man (Woman?) wants us to, and we're stifling our own free speech in the process. (I wonder if latent contempt for authors generally fuels the backlash, but even if it's a straight-up free speech argument, I still reject it.)
Thank you RWA for commanding me to do the right thing. I'll admit, I resented it at the time. I blog. I wanted to keep blogging about what worked and didn't work in specific books. Post pinky-swear, I wouldn't be able to mention authors by name. But you know what? I don't think it's resulted in self-censoring at all. Read my last post. I didn't censor anything.
What I did was mask the identity of the book, its author, and the reviewer. I don't know the author at all, but I know and like the reviewer. I treated them the same: as though both of them are my dearest friends.
Where's the lily-livered cowardice in that? I'm writing about colleagues of mine. People whom I respect and want to respect me. Even if I don't like someone, I still want her to think I'm not the kind of person who would say in public, "I don't like X's work and you shouldn't either."
Now, I don't have a problem saying, "I don't like bad writing," and I agree I rather blunt the force of that statement if I discuss a book without identifying it. That's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. It puts the onus on me to make very clear what sort of bad writing I'm talking about.
I understand the human instinct to KNOW -- know who the author is, know the book title, know the review's name -- but why am I being courageous for satisfying that curiosity in public speech? A conversation I have with a friend, privately, is a different matter. That's not public speech, and anyway I trust my friends. As they trust me.
So here it is: I took a virtual pinky swear with a huge bunch of writers and would-be writers that I wouldn't bad-mouth them in public. In effect, I'll be nice. If that's elevating their interest in my discretion above other's people's interest in my unvarnished opinion, then you know which side you fall on and you know whether I picked you or the other team.