Writing isn’t as easy as it looks from the outside. Even harder than the physical writing itself is the moment a writer opens their work up to the world, allowing anyone who sees fit to share their opinions.
Opinions are great. Presented in the right way, they’re just opinions — they don’t hurt anyone.
Except that’s not how the internet usually works. People like to disguise their inability to casually disagree with others as rightful opinions, even when they specifically frame them as attacks.
Even when a faceless username tears apart your work without meaning to hurt you, it’s hard not to take it personally when they do so in a tone and using language that suggests you’re somehow in the wrong — even when you aren’t.
People either don’t realize or don’t care that there are aspiring creatives out there who have yet to learn how to handle these kinds of people. One too many streams of deliberately harsh criticism can push someone over the wrong edge, metaphorically speaking.
It’s OK to be afraid that might happen to you. But it’s not OK to let that fear hold you back.
If you’re an aspiring writer who feels unable to write and distribute the work you want to because you’re afraid of others’ responses to it, first, understand that I get it. Whether you live alongside anxiety like I do or you simply want to feel like your work has worth, this part of “being a writer” sucks.
It is very difficult to embrace the vulnerability that comes along with writing for a public audience.
It is also unfair, yet necessary, that we have to accept that there are people out there who are not nice. Who deliberately go out of their way to pick apart our efforts and grind our already shaky confidence into the ground (before stomping on it a few times, just in case).
Everyone wants to be liked. Respected. Appreciated. Cared for and about. That’s called being human.
As a human, unfortunately, you have to learn to deal with it.
(If you don’t want tough love, that’s OK — carry on as you were. I’m going to keep going, though.)
If someone criticizes your work, it might have nothing to do with their opinion of you.
And if they don’t comment on your work at all and simply seek to attack you, their compulsive need to tear you down likely has nothing to do with your work.
There is a big difference between negative feedback and purposefully harsh criticism. And there is also a difference between sharing an opinion — as everyone has the right to do — and directing an opinion at a specific person for no purpose other than to target them.
You don’t have to listen to that kind of criticism. If it’s not constructive, it doesn’t matter. It might matter to you in the moment — yeah, it hurts — but in the grand scheme of things, is it really worth caring about?
The criticism you should pay attention to is the criticism that builds you up, even when it’s negative.
Worthwhile criticism: I think your essay’s argument would have come across a lot stronger if you would have explained a few things in more detail.
Pointless criticism: Your writing is vague and dumbed down, which makes you look stupid and makes your essay not worth a full read-through.
No one wants to be told they didn’t do a good job, even by an ill-willed stranger.
Over time, you can build up resistance to this kind of behavior. It will never stop hurting. It will never NOT bother you. But you learn to get over it. Shake it off. Keep going. Those people don’t matter. You do.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.