Don’t read the comments (a grain of salt in the Social Media Age)

Sep 23, 2014

What are your thoughts on this post?

Lalala, I can’t hear them! Because I often try not to, um, read them.

It’s no offense to you, commenter! I’ve been blogging a for a long time, for all manner of clients. 98% of all comments on pieces that I’ve written are super lovely and nice, or at least constructive. Most feedback is interesting and informative. I don’t mind criticism or debate – after all, you have a perfect right to express your opinions. You don’t even have to like what I’ve written!

It’s that additional 2% that always gets me; the mean, the deeply unhelpful, or the (very occasional) personal attack. Even when I know I shouldn’t take it personally – that the troll in question wouldn’t know me on the street if they tripped over me – some small part of my psyche is hurt. It’s as if I’ve regressed back to childhood; why don’t they like meeee?

I think that this issue – a giant fear of criticism – is increasingly common in the Social Media age, when conceivably anything you write can be shared with the world at large. On the one hand, everyone wants to be heard and appreciated. On the other hand, inviting others’ opinions in necessitates a very thick skin. Given the weight of that dilemma, it’s all too easy to contemplate not to create at all; to hide within your shell and never let your writing (or art, or film) be seen.

Don’t do it.

Create. Put your work out there. And then take all but the most valuable criticism with a huge grain of salt. It’s easy for people to tear down things down – especially on the Internet, where people can hide behind pseudonyms or partially-blocked, carefully curated social media profiles. Don’t let some person you’ve never met prevent you from showing your work.

Feedback is valuable, yes. But instead of grasping blindly for guidance, seek out people whose criticism really means something to you: collaborators, mentors, teachers, peers. Peel back your defenses and let those (very select and trusted) people give you honest, unsparing help. Don’t look for people who will only tell you nice, complimentary things – instead, find people who want to help you do your best work (even if it’s a bit hard to hear). Take their critique seriously, and forget the rest. Everyone else doesn’t get to be under your skin – even if you have to avoid the comment section altogether.

A quick poll of friends who also write content that is occasionally published online reveals that all of them have also come to this conclusion, and try not to read the comments on their pieces. When we’re too tempted to resist, we often regret it – and get badly burned enough to avoid reading them again (for a while, at least).

Don’t let a fear of exposure stop you from being seen. If you’ve been hanging back from creating because you’re scared what people will think, you’re cheating yourself of the chance to influence others and make a difference.

If we – the unsure, the scared, the vulnerable, the sensitive – don’t be bold and show our best work, the void we leave will quickly be filled with narcissists and pedants.

Don’t let only the loudest, most self-assured voices be heard. Put your flawed, imperfect work out there, and keep working to improve it. Ignore any feedback that isn’t helpful. You’ll be happier for it.

Want more like this? Join Freelancers Union and never miss a post.