Episode 32: The Price of Visibility

It was hard to take at first. I scanned through the post, left the page, and then came back several times to read it over and over again. This was the first critique of my writing on the Internet that I’d ever seen before—and it was quite blunt and scathing.

Sure, I’ve had my fair share of editorial and peer reviews, and not all of them were glowing (some were downright biting). But with those, I had submitted my work to the mercy of the other people. This, on the other hand, was an unsolicited review.

I’ve since learned my lesson.

Writing for the public is a public exercise. When you put your work out there—on a blog or in a book or other public space—you are essentially submitting your work to the world for review. This happens whether you’re ready for it or not. The more successful or popular your work, the more likely you are to face scrutiny. And, though I have no statistical data, my guess is that most of the people who will comment on your work via articles or blogs are the ones who either really like it—or can’t stand it. The Internet makes commenting free, but it often takes passion to make someone post.

However, I don’t shy away from the negative comments. In fact, I frequently do Google searches to find them (disclosure: only after I’ve steeled myself and only every once in a while). Why? I want to know what weaknesses and problems that others see in my writing. As tough as it is to take sometimes, there’s usually at least some truth in even the harshest comments. That truth pushes me to improve.

The point is that if you want to have a public platform for your writing, no matter what the field, you will face unsolicited reviews. There will likely be a few that will cause you to talk back to the computer screen—especially if they assign a motivation to you that you didn’t intend. But this is the cost we all pay for being in the public space.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with the scrutiny:

  • Prepare: The more you bounce your ideas around before you publish them, the better you’ll feel when the critiques come. They’ll still come, but at least your critics won’t point out the word you misspelled and will—hopefully—focus on your content.
  • Don’t flame: We all get the urge to justify ourselves. I no longer write something soon after I’ve read a review of my work—and definitely not a comment back. When I used to do that, I almost always made a bigger mess and a fool of myself. Wait until you’ve had time to cool down and examine the claims before you respond—if you do.
  • Process: There are some comments about your work that will be of little value, but never dismiss any of them without digging through what’s said. I have found that people innately find chinks in your arguments, bad passages of prose, or other flubs. Some of them may not know how to frame the problem, but they’ll point to some of the specifics. Learn to look for the bigger issues.

Have any of you faced negative reviews? How did you respond?


2 thoughts on “Episode 32: The Price of Visibility

  1. I sent a short story to a site which was putting up stories for people to read, it was a long time ago, but about a year, maybe two later, I got an email from some school head asking me if I was the original author of the story. I said I was and was told a student at his achool had passed it off as his own. I guess it was kind of a compliment that someone was prepared to plagiarize my story.

  2. You know, I can’t relate to writing something and receiving negative feedback so much as you can because writing is not necessarily my area of expertise. My talents are in the area of music where piano playing is concerned.

    Nonetheless, I still think I can relate to the negativity you speak of. Usually, a piano competition will consist of no less than three judges. What amazes me is how completely different all three opinions can be. I remember one judge saying about my playing one time: “Sometimes beautiful, sometimes rocky.” Rocky? What did that mean? That one word “rocky” stuck with me for years. I eventually interpreted it as meaning “choppy” or “uneven” so I set out to improve my playing in that area.

    I guess it comes down to this: Everyone is always going to have an opinion. You have to learn to recognize it as just that, an opinion. You have to learn to be able to pick out the objective parts of one’s opinions and not take things personal.

    Because you are my best friend, I would have a tendency to be biased, of course, and say everything you write is wonderful and some of the best writing I’ve ever read, and I’m sure it would be.

    I am proud of what you are doing and how you are using your talents. It’s important to always have fun with what you are doing in life, and I think you have discovered that as well. Your fulfillment with your writing will not necessarily come as a result of other’s opinions of what you have writtein about, but it will come as a result of you expressing yourself from the heart. You do that very well so I say “good job” and keep writing. You make me proud to call you friend!

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