This post is inspired by LJ Idol, and might be taken as a bit of Idol Meta, but might also be appropriate to consider in other venues as well.
I've read almost all the LJ Idol posts this week, and I've noticed a few posts that got me thinking about positivity versus negativity in writing.
For those of you who aren't participating in LJ Idol and somehow missed last year when I was, it's a community that is structured around a contest, and at this point, it has about 200 participants.
Most people have one of two goals: to win or to make it to a certain "place" in the competition (say, "top 50") or to make new friends by participating, read new people's writing, and having new people read their own writing.
So, in both cases, whether you want to get people to vote for you, or you want to make new friends, you want people to like you. If you want people to vote for you, you might be able to get them to like your writing but not necessarily like you as a person. However, you will probably go a lot further if they like you as a person, too. If it's a choice between you and someone whose writing they equally admire, many people are going to go for the person they like the best. If you're looking for friends, you can probably get away with a lower quality of writing, as long as people can tell you are a person they would want to get to know. This usually involves being at least reasonably likable.
When choosing a subject for an entry, you can write an entry that is:
--Non-fiction, about something bad
--Non-fiction, about something good
--Non-fiction, without a qualitative judgment attached
--Any of the above, but fiction
Pretty much all entries will fall into one of those categories. On top of the qualitative judgment of the topic you're writing about ("I fell off my bike!"), there is also the question of how your own personal attitude is reflective in the entry. You could have two stories about people who fall off their bikes, but might be "I fell of my bike; haha, I'm such a klutz!" while another is "I fell off my bike; I'm going to sue my neighbor who is an awful person for not raking his leaves properly!"
I tend to find that when the stories I'm reading, be it fiction or non-fiction, tend to focus on the sins of other people, or insult other people, or try to convince me that another person is bad, I am less likely to be sympathetic to the reader, especially this early in the LJ Idol season. It makes me wonder, "Hm, I am just getting to know you as a person: is this the first thing you want me to know about yourself?"
Remember that most of us do not know you. If you met someone at a party for the first time and you wanted to make friends with them, would you want to dazzle them with your humorous story of your own klutziness, or tell them what an awful person your neighbor is? Is trying to convince us that you are better than another person, or that another person is a bad person, or that you are certain your personal values are morally or ethically superior to someone else's among the first things you want us to know about you?
This is especially true if you use your early entries to make fun of or insult a certain group of people, as opposed to simply complaining about a specific person. What if the person reading your entry is from that group? There are 200 competitors, and many people who are not competing who like to read LJ Idol entries. Even if none of them have that particular background, you might think your joke is hilarious, but remember that it is about another human being, and remember that this is still part of our first impression of you.
If you are just here for the competition, and less interested in making friends, then you might want to ask another question: is writing an entry where you bitch about another person or group of people really your best writing? Is that the quality of writing you want to show people?
I think this is true whether or not you are really interested in the competitive part of LJ Idol, and I think it goes beyond a single competition or community. It's why so many of us on LJ lock more personal things about ourselves: we get that airing dirty laundry or bitching in public isn't really a face of ourselves that we want to share with mere acquaintances. We know that there are certain subjects that are rude to talk about at a dinner party. We are, one would hope, compassionate and considerate in the way we interact with people in our daily lives. Yeah, we're all jerks sometimes. I'm a jerk sometimes. And we all bitch to our friends sometimes. That's cool. But many of us are just getting to know each other. Is the first face you want people to see from you the jerky one?