The Vulnerability of Writers

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Oh, writers.

We already have it tough enough, what with being our own worst critics and all.

Unfortunately, launching our words out into the world also opens us up to the criticism of others, criticism that can be either constructive or just plain cruel.

A few months ago, I blogged about the 10 reasons married sex is better, a subject matter I knew could be offensive to the entire unmarried population, but — hey! — it was all in good fun. One of my commenters took personal offense, putting forth the assertion that women stop having sex once they’ve scored the man (and his money). I tried to respond with friendly logic, but it proved impossible. I shrugged it off and left my other readers to defend me. It was no big deal.

Then, just the other week, I blogged about my dislike of deep v-necks on men…especially when paired with huge amounts of chest hair. Who knew chest hair was so polarizing!? One commenter even called me a “metrosexual-loving illiterate.” While I readily admit to loving metrosexuals, being called “illiterate” stung.

The thing is, the mere act of being a writer invites such behavior. It’s just something we have to deal with. Here’s what you have to remember when weeding through the comments, criticisms, and feedback your writing receives:

You Can’t Respond with Logic:

Seriously. While most comments are completely valid — not meant to be discredited simply because they’re not in line with your own opinions — it’s usually easy to tell when a commenter is really a troll. And as much as you’ll want (desperately) to defend yourself, your words of logic will only provoke more crazy.

Sometimes, You Shouldn’t Respond at All:

Because that’s exactly what they’re looking for: Attention. A comment clusterfuck that spirals quickly out of control. Don’t give them the pleasure.

Sometimes, However, You Do Need to Take Responsibility:

If you don’t want your comments section to devolve into a huge mess that soon lacks any coherent or intelligent discussion, you need to take on moderating responsibilities. If you worry that such behavior is in direct opposition to free speech, just remember: This is not just for your own sanity; it is also for the sanity of your readers…those looking for like minds and safe online havens. Set up a easily-located comment policy or code of conduct. It will make it easier to police things. Sonia Simone recently wrote a great post about this over at Copyblogger. Check it.

Don’t Doubt Yourself:

This is the most important one to remember because, despite our bravery when it comes to opening up to the world through our writing, some of us are are still sensitive little bunny rabbits. And one mean comment can make us doubt our entire career path. But once you start panicking, you’ll soon realize: For every snotty comment you receive, you’ve probably received 20 more that are positive (and downright enthusiastic).

I’d like to end with a quote from that Copyblogger post: Don’t talk to the trash; just take it out.

So let’s hear it: What’s the craziest bit of criticism you’ve received?

Related: Baring it All: Personal Essays Are Tough

Comments

  1. Diana says:

    Oh boy, have I been there. It’s unavoidable if you’re writing about your personal life or opinions, so there’s really no choice other than sucking it up. It can be hard for me–I’m pretty oversensitive! My favorite criticisms of the past: “this article is a ball of smegma,” “no wonder you’re single–who would put up with you?” and slight variations of “you’re a whore” (not unexpected–in response to a piece on casual sex).

  2. michelle says:

    Funny that I read this post and dooce’s solution on the same day – http://dooce.com/2009/09/16/your-momma-said-you-ugly :)

  3. Steph Auteri says:

    @Diana: “This article is a ball of smegma”!? Jesus christ! Before being called illiterate I was most offended by a comment someone made about six years ago in which they told me I was to blame for the sexual harassment I experienced at a former internship. I feel like sex writers get it so. bad. Maybe the only people who get it worse are mommybloggers?

    @Michelle: This is the best thing I’ve ever seen.

  4. Jesaka Long says:

    Great post, Steph! I admire your ability and risk-taking in writing about topics like too much chest hair and married sex. :) While I’ve yet to have this kind of comment experience, I’m saving your post to revisit when it does happen!

  5. Steph Auteri says:

    @Jesaka: Chest hair is such a controversial topic. Don’t ever write about it! ;)

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