Polite As Fuck: A Creative Person’s Guide to Internet Etiquette
Polite As Fuck: A Creative Person’s Guide to Internet Etiquette

Polite As Fuck: A Creative Person’s Guide to Internet Etiquette

A few weeks ago, the very talented erotica author Alison Tyler and I were chatting via Twitter about manners for creative business people on the internet. And then we got talking about creating a book about said manners (don’t let the hoity-toity literary magazines fool you with their articles about how fantastic book ideas come about over tea and crumpets; in my experience, the vast majority of great creative ideas are born when smart people with no filters imbibe too much alcohol or coffee or both, then get on the internet and start going, “You know what we should do?!” “Yeah!” “A book about manners!” “Yeah!” and then they write up a fake table of contents, going “Yeah!” and then suddenly the world stops and they’re all like, “Crap, this is good. We should really make this happen.”).

Since I don’t have time to write a book at the moment, I’m going to write a blog post. About manners. For creative business people. On the Internet. Because: You, as a creative person, as a business person, as a real live person of any walk of life, should know how to conduct yourself online (and truly, elsewhere too). This information might become a book. Or an ongoing series. Or maybe just a one-time rant that will surely make someone on the Internet hate me, because they’re going to say, “I don’t need to be nice. It’s the fucking Internet for fuck’s sake. Who does she think she is, Miss Fucking Manners?”

Yes. Yes, I do think I’m Miss Fucking Manners. See image below for proof.


Onward. Haters can stop reading right now. We don’t want you to learn this stuff anyway, because then you can keep outing yourselves so beautifully with your utter lack of manners and we can all lock you out of our virtual houses once and for all.

So here’s the list (more to come, maybe, as I think of them). And of course, this list isn’t just for the internet. It’s good for conventions, workplaces, daily life, and anywhere that you might interact with other human beings:

Be Fucking Respectful. As Wil Wheaton is fond of saying, “Don’t be a dick.” But I say better yet, go a step beyond that. Play nice. BE nice. Appreciate people for what they bring to the table. See people as human beings with hearts and loved ones and illnesses and fears and dreams. Be willing to accept that someone else doesn’t share your viewpoint. Respect that viewpoint if you can. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe people are accidental assholes. It happens. If you can’t say anything nice to someone, then find someone else that you can say something nice to. Which brings me to:

Say Nice Things To/About the People Who Deserve Them. Love another author’s work? Tell them. Think someone makes beautiful art or said something particularly smart or is doing an amazing world-changing thing? Tell them. Tell them. Tell them. It’s so easy. And it makes the world a better place. Also, share what you love. It helps spread good things, like a virus that you actually want to catch.

Tell Dicks to Fuck Off. Being respectful only works IF the other people are also being respectful to everyone else. Once they cross that line, I think it’s okay to tell them to fuck off. It’s also okay to just leave the interaction. Do what’s best for you. In video games, there’s a saying–“Stay out of the fire” or “Don’t stand in the bad stuff” — that is used when someone stands right smack dab in the middle of whatever is hurting them (usually fire or poison emitted from a horrible creature) until they die. Don’t do that, unless you have the appropriate armor and weapons (or a death wish). Otherwise, it’s okay to get the hell out.

Have the Appropriate Armor and Weapons. Being a person is hard. Being a person on the internet is harder. Build your armor if you can. It helps you maintain dignity, respect, kindness, and human empathy. My armor is a mish-mash of self-respect, self-confidence, experience, perspective, and a small army of friends who tell me what’s what. My weapons are kindness, respect, human empathy, and my brain.

Shut the Hell Up Once in a While. Spoiler alert: You are not the most interesting/informed/educated/experienced person in every forum/chat room/virtual space. Yes, you might be the most (fill in the blank) person in one particular room, but not in ALL the rooms. It’s just not possible. Other people are smart and talented and experienced too. So shut up and listen. People hate blowhards. Unless you’re teaching or giving a lecture, if you’ve talked or typed for more than a few minutes and no one else has said anything, shut up. They’re quiet because a. you haven’t given them the chance to say anything with all your ranting and b. they’re now not paying one iota of attention to you because they’ve zoned out and are thinking about tacos, sex, or puppies.

Don’t Burn Your Damn Bridges. I don’t consider myself a petty person, but if you don’t know me and you start talking about what a shitty person I am online, if you lie about me, or tell the world how much my book sucks because of how much I suck (unless you are doing an actual review of the actual product, in which case, criticize away!), I will remember it. If you are a purposeful asshole to my friends or colleagues, I will remember it. (We’re all accidental assholes sometimes — that always deserves a second chance). If you are negative about everything or purposefully attempt to create hatred or vitriol, I will remember. Everyone else will remember it too. Because the internet isn’t a dinner party. It’s a public megaphone with a recording device attached, and everyone will know that you said that shit FOREVER. I suppose this isn’t a big deal if you’re just a person, because people will just label you an asshole and move on. But if you’re trying to make it as a business and/or as a creative person, you’ve just lost a whole lot of opportunities.

Learn these Words: Please, Thank You, I’m Sorry, You’re Awesome. Use them whenever necessary. Which is about three times more often than you think.

Please share this if you think it will help someone.

Thank you for reading.

I’m sorry for all the times that I forgot to mind my manners.

You’re awesome.

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.



  1. Brilliant post, Shanna and Cecilia, I laughed! Right on.

    I tend to be more passive-aggressive in my dealings on the internet and don’t reply to haters or rude people but I DO remember them. I have a long memory. Evidently, I take after my mother in this, or so I was told by my father who said it was the only unflattering thing he ever found in her. And, I have to say as an editor, my memory is even longer with regards to those who trash me or my art. And yes, unflattering or not, I will not be interested in anything they might submit or say in future. I will reject their art offhand. If it’s good art, it will find another home, but not with me.

    So, Exhibit A, I must respectfully disagree with you. Trashing my friends is bad enough, but trashing me and then coming to me for a job is the height of hubris. Seriously, speaking your mind is great but being nasty to others is not the way to make friends and influence people.

  2. Lots of interesting points here – and a lot that makes sense – but…

    Given that we operate in a culturally-diverse online environment, it’s important to remember that what constitutes ‘good manners’ is culturally-dependent. One person’s direct is another person’s rude. One person’s polite is another’s passive-aggressive. One person’s complimentary is another’s insincere. One person’s constructive criticism is another’s personal attack.

    Trying to be too prescriptive is a dangerous game, *especially* if you’re using it as the main determinant of who you do/don’t want to work with. It’s why lines like this do kind of bother me:

    ‘if you trash me or my friends and then come to me and ask me for a job…I will laugh in your face (silently, and then I will send you a polite “Thanks, but no thanks,” email because I am Miss Fucking Manners.”)’

    I’ve seen too many examples of people *inadvertently* causing offence to be comfortable with the idea of editors rejecting creative work without explanation, just because they *feel* they’ve been ‘trashed’.

    Manners are important, but without open and honest communication they’re far too subjective and open to misinterpretation to be a reliable way of judging other people – and especially of judging their work. Maybe this is just another example of how etiquette varies across cultures, but I think it’s far more polite to be upfront with someone about why you’re rejecting their work, than it is to laugh about it behind their back.

    1. Shanna Germain

      That’s a good point. I should have been more clear that:

      a. I wasn’t talking about submitting creative work, which is different. I was talking about them asking for a job with my company, where personality is paramount.

      b. I meant people who very clearly go out of their way to be mean. I think most of us can tell the difference between people who are voicing their opinions/communicating poorly/being accidental assholes/dissenting for good purpose, etc., and people who are purposefully being jerks for no reason.

      1. Absolutely, and I’d agree that most people get that distinction right most of the time. I just think that the more we’re willing to communicate – the more information we’re willing to gather – the more we increase our chances of distinguishing between the two.

        And thanks for clarifying a) – that makes total sense!

  3. Now I don’t feel so bad about blocking people who reply to things I tweet with negative comments. What on earth makes people think it’s appropriate to tell me how much they hate something I’ve linked to? I just posted a link to a video I liked: a writer who ostensibly is linked to me on social media because he is trying to make connections in the business replies calling it a “travesty.” I told him it was a travesty he was so rude, and blocked him. Now I don’t feel so bad!

    1. Shanna Germain

      I struggle with that too; it’s the negative side of having manners, I think. Because I want to be nice and give everyone space to voice their opinions, I feel guilty when I shut them out. I try to give people two chances, but after that, they’re done. My mental health requires it.

  4. Bill Toscano

    Have a statute of limitations. Be willing to forgive.

    Now matter what someone says, there is a point at which you need to let go, whether it is a week, a month, a year or five years.

  5. “Don’t Burn Your Damn Bridges.”

    So much this.

    It’s all too easy to be negative or downright vitriolic, especially on the internet. (I know–I used to fall into that trap, too.) It does get you attention over the short term, but the people who are constantly ranting or hating on something in real life aren’t fun to be around. They bring you down. It has the same effects in online communities–everyone gets dragged down. It pushes people away. (And the last thing the gaming community in particular wants right now, in my opinion, is to turn away potential new players.)

    More than that, it’s not professional. The last thing a publisher wants is to have to worry about the baggage incurred by being an online diva/shitslinger. Just sayin’.

  6. Shanna, this is GOLD!

    I vote we create Polite Saturday, which [much like Follow Friday, or something], involves public displays of Politeness so that we can model the kind of worlds we want.

    The two things I would add to this discussion from the Poly community are:
    1. People are not things
    2. People are more important than relationships.

    I think that with these two simple ethical statements most disagreements can be resolved & the ones that cannot are likely the ones we need to spend more time creatively solving together.

    You’re Awesome!

  7. Pingback: etiquette | Karavansara

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