After years of working as an editor, I recently began to dabble on the side with freelance writing. To be honest, I was pretty pumped to see my byline out there again—I love being an editor, but we don’t exactly get featured with dazzling headshots or validated by readers for our impeccable comma usage.
However, once my first couple of articles were posted and shared on Facebook, I learned something I’d known deep down for years but had yet to fully experience on a personal level: people on the internet can be mean.
If I wrote a listicle, people couldn’t believe I’d dare miss their favorite item. If I admitted to struggling with something in the article, someone could comment to brag about how they had done it better.
The worst came when I wrote an article that was meant to be a helpful and encouraging guide for actors, based on my own experiences in theatre. However, one commenter accused me of making techies feel like “castoffs,” which was certainly not my intention. I felt a lot of things—anger, guilt, frustration, and doubt—as I completely internalized the feedback and hated myself for making someone feel that way with a piece of writing. Luckily, my editor had my back and defended the article, but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at yet another negative comment that made me question whether I even deserved to be writing on behalf of the publication.
With the rise of the internet and social media, it’s now easier than ever for readers to interact with your work with just a few strokes of their keyboards. And while racking up a ton of likes and shares on your post can certainly do wonders for your ego, there are going to be people out there who aren’t exactly fans of your articles. Unless you have really thick skin, it can be tough not to internalize everything they say. Here are some tips and tricks to help you deal when you get negative feedback about your writing from the online community:
In some cases, it can help to recognize that a commenter doesn’t have beef with you or the way you write—they just take issue with what you’re writing about. For instance, anything that touches on politics, no matter how unbiased, is bound to turn the comments section into a battle worthy of Game of Thrones. So even though it may seem like people are losing their minds and lashing out about some of the things you wrote, take a breath. No matter who wrote that article in whatever way, it was likely going to have the same result. If you do freelance writing, this is particularly good to remember, since you may not exactly be writing the article of your dreams on the topic of your choice.
Remember back in the day when trolls were just ugly creatures living under bridges and spitting out riddles? If you’re unfamiliar with the most up-to-date definition of the term, trolls are people whose sole purpose on the internet is to generate arguments by posting deliberately provocative comments. And sometimes, they’ll target your article. As tempting as it can be to shoot off a fiery response to defend yourself, the best way to handle this situation is to ignore them completely. You aren’t likely to change a troll’s mind once he or she has decided to latch onto your writing, and by leaving the comment alone, you increase the likelihood that it will get buried beneath more positive and supportive comments.
If there’s a piece of negative feedback that’s really irking you, take a step back and try to analyze the situation as an objective third party. If a comment is critical and seems blatantly ill-informed, it’s possible someone has left a comment without even clicking on and reading your piece. Or, maybe they read your piece, but only reached the halfway point. Sometimes, people will project the subject matter of the article onto you and call you names or make assumptions about you or your lifestyle based on the post. Personal attacks can hurt the most, but at the end of the day, these people are complete strangers—and no matter what they’ve read, they don’t know you. Remember that.
Your editor loved your article. Your friends keep thumbing that heart on your Facebook post about it. Even your mom read it—and took the time to call you to tell you how great it was! Take these facts to heart when confronted with a harsh takedown of your work. Look for validation from the people whose opinions matter to you, and then stop there. There’s no reason to hang your head because Cheryl in West Virginia made it a point to shred to pieces your well-intentioned parenting advice or moneylover1004 just had to tell you that your article was the one that caused him to unsubscribe from the publication. As a writer, it’s a good idea to keep a sheet of communications with people who gave you good feedback that you can reference when you’re feeling down.
While you may have to shrug off comments that offer nothing but headaches, among those sometimes exist advice and feedback that can actually be helpful. So, you can definitely wall yourself off from any responses are just outright mean, but try to be open to anything that can help improve your articles in the future. This can sting, since you actually have to recognize the validity of the comment in order to take it in, but it never hurts to get other opinions to help boost your freelance writing. So yeah, maybe Ina’s diatribe about your spelling errors was annoyingly harsh and judgmental and put a bad taste in your mouth. But maybe you’ll be sure to double- and triple-check your drafts next time to ensure you’ve spelled everyone’s name right. This won’t always be the case, but it’s true that constructive criticism that hurts also tends to stick around the longest.
Though some people may say that being a writer opens yourself up to all sorts of critiques by putting your writing out there, knowing which ones to pay attention to and which ones to mentally swipe left on can keep your confidence intact and even improve your writing.