Somebody wrote something and somebody thought it was crap. This isn’t breaking news. When the blawgosphere was in its early days, and cheerleaders were extolling its virtues as the new normal where everybody could show the world their brilliance, I had a cute sound bite: Anybody can blawg. Everybody cannot.
Put something up on the screen and see what happens. Some people are going to find out that nobody wants to read it. Maybe because they’re boring. Maybe because they suck at writing. Maybe because they have nothing to say. The possibilities are endless.
But some people are going to attract some attention, though not the attention they want. Somebody is going to call your baby ugly. Somebody is going to say you’re wrong, your writing is idiotic, you, dear writer, are a moron. Yesterday, I was informed that a lot of people think I’m a “major league twat.”
Here’s the sad news. Not everybody is going to love you. Not everybody will think you’re as brilliant as you think you are. Me either. As regular readers here know, I’m told all the time how wrong I am. BFD.
Over the years, I’ve heard from writers who were taken to task for their words. After a book review I did years ago, I heard from the author, who was livid about my review. I felt badly about being unimpressed with the book, because I realized that the author put a great deal of effort into its creation. But giving him an A for effort wasn’t a reason to give him an A for a terrible book. The author’s reaction to the review concluded with
I could go on but your misreading of the book is, as you might put it, frankly exhausting.
Mallory Ortberg is the new “Dear Prudence,” giving Slate-ish advice to Slate readers. She was asked a question that was so wonderfully Slate:
Q. Terrified of success after bad reviews: I’m an artist who worked various minimum-wage jobs and made a lot of art (that no one ever saw) for most of my 20s. That is until recently, when I managed to get some pieces into a small but well-regarded show, and multiple bloggers wrote scathing reviews of my work. Weirdly it hasn’t stopped me from getting more gigs, and that’s what’s scaring me. My work has been rejected or ignored for years, but it never fazed me. I like a challenge. But now I can’t sleep at night just thinking about how these reviews and anonymous comments are online and will NEVER EVER go away. Even after I’m dead they’ll still be out there, speaking for me and my work. I’ve been painfully obsessing for almost a year now. Am I just not ready for any sort of success? Should I cancel all my upcoming gigs? If I can’t handle bloggers, what am I going to do when it’s an actual honest-to-God professional reviewer?
The Slateish answer was, wait for it, the tummy rub:
You say you want a career in your chosen field, and you have it. You say you “can’t handle” criticism, but you’ve continued to produce work despite resistance and criticism; you say that you’re “afraid of success,” but you are, in fact, already successful. It is not unusual for people of an artistic or sensitive temperament to feel particularly vulnerable to criticism, and it is not unusual to feel upset when someone doesn’t like your work. You want to make sure these feelings don’t get in the way of your ability to sleep and work and generally function, which is a laudable goal, but don’t feel as if your response to criticism is somehow abnormal. It isn’t.
Ortberg is right that it’s not unusual, but for the wrong reason. What makes it usual is the normalization of people of a “sensitive temperament,” the fragile teacups who are paralyzed by criticism. But the fact that sad tears has become the new normal doesn’t mean the critics are wrong or sad tears are right. If you can’t take a punch, get out of the ring.
No matter how much you believe in yourself, you are not owed universal adoration. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, has won tons of awards and will be taught in colleges for decades. I thought it sucked, though a remarkably good example of the shallowness, narcissism and self-indulgence of the times. I’m pretty sure he won’t lose any sleep because I wrote this.
Recently, a commenter here took me to task for not “admitting” that I was wrong.
Yes, you have well reasoned posts that are very difficult to challenge. But you also write a lot, normally multiple posts a day. Nobody is fundamentally right 99.9% of the time. You should be wrong more often if you want to be an more effective communicator.
I’m not saying you are not compelling: you are. But the rarity of you being wrong might indicate any of the following: that you are an exceptional human being; that the blog is a self-created echo chamber; that this is the reason you are not as good a communicator as you would like to be.
Beyond explaining certain flaws with the assumptions, there was one additional factor that goes hand-in-hand with writing publicly: no matter what, someone will hate it. Someone will think I’m wrong. Someone will hate my prose. Someone will take offense at my word choice. Someone will tell me I’m a “major league twat.” To which I shrug.
Seth Godin made the point:
You will be judged (or you will be ignored)
Those are pretty much the only two choices.
If you can’t shrug off the fact that people will think you suck, then you can’t write. If being told your baby is ugly makes you cry, then find a puppy room. You are not going to like the real world. You have no business writing.