Monday’s post addressed the ways we should handle the limitations others put on our work and how best to adjust our work to fit the pubic opinion (i.e., don’t). Today I will be discussing what to do in regards to negative commentary directed at you, your craft or a piece of your work.
First of all I must make the statement that seems very obvious here. You should always do your absolute best to avoid all negativity in your life and in your craft. I know this isn’t always easy, but it is necessary if you are going to maintain sanity and continue in what you love. I also have to say this, no matter how much it pains me; sooner or later each and every one of us will absolutely have to face the negative comments of someone who doesn’t like or understand our work or our craft. There is no way around that, unfortunately. There are almost 8 billion people on this rock, and whether we like it or not, they aren’t all going to love what we do.
The negative commentary we will have to face can come at us from many different mediums and they all can hit us in a different way. I think one of the most important things I can say here about how to handle getting this feedback is that you should never let it get to you. You will have to develop a very thick skin if you hope to gain success in any public field. No matter what area you go into you will have to deal with people who may not like your particular contributions. Obviously, some of these people will be civilized and willing to have an intellectual discussion with you regarding your work, but there are always going to be those that won’t. No matter how the person giving you negativity or criticism is acting, it is always important for you to keep your head. As someone who has been known to have a bit of a temper at times, particularly when I feel something I’m passionate about is being attacked, I know that isn’t always easy. But it is crucial that you not be seen as irrational in the face of criticism. That, I’m afraid, is something a lot of us are never able to come back from.
The way you are approached has a lot to do with how you handle the situation, as I’ve said, and it is important to note that, no matter what is said to you, you should NEVER engage in an argument, especially on the internet. Being realistic, that will never turn out well. In my own experience you can tell the type of person you are dealing with from their comments and how they handle themselves in their initial attempt at discussion. Obviously if someone comments on a piece of your work and tells you that you are a talent-less hack who should crawl back under a rock and hide for the rest of his life, it would just be best to ignore that person. In regards to the shout out I made on Monday, which helped me realize the topics for this week, I don’t think you should ever apologize for your work. I understand how tempting it may be to drop a quick ‘sorry’ in when you decide to respond to someone who has made negative comments on your work, but the bottom line is that it is YOUR work. You are the one who had the idea, you are the one who developed the piece and brought it into the world, and having the ability and the courage to do that, to me, excuses you from ever needing to apologize for doing so.
Looking at your work in this way can open you to a whole new level of understanding and can make you feel that you instantly have a greater freedom in regards to the craft itself. When receiving feedback that can be construed as negative I think it’s important to look at exactly what the person is saying and how they are saying it. If they are telling you that your work is stupid because pigs can’t actually look up even though there was never even a single mention of a pig in your work, you can probably pretty quickly dismiss that person. However if someone is telling you that they found it hard to relate to your piece about overcoming depression because their best friend couldn’t overcome the problem then you have the opportunity for a candid discussion that can, if handled right, gain you at least one fan and improve the public opinion of your work. Maintaining civility and having a strong, meaningful conversation about your work here can be a great move on your part and may well set a lot of people’s opinion on what type of person you are.
In the event that your negative comments don’t come from someone sitting in front of a computer screen, your interaction is going to be that much more crucial. Face to face encounters with a fan (or someone who doesn’t like us or our work) can make or break the way we are viewed as well. If we are in a public setting and someone comes up to us and says that they absolutely hate our work and they think we made a terrible mistake by being a writer (or artist, whatever the medium) we have to choose our reaction very carefully. In my opinion the best response to something like that is more or less “I’m sorry you feel that way”. By saying this I think you are showing respect for the person’s opinion while not apologizing for what you and your work stand for. Of course, most of this seems like common knowledge, so I’m sure we all know about how not to react to hecklers (most likely because of how we’ve seen celebrities do it). However, one very important thing I will leave you with is that you also have to learn how to react to positive commentary as well.
Whether it is in person or online when someone gives you or your work a compliment you must be able to hold your head up and thank them. You should never gloat about the success of your work (in either circumstance) and you should always be grateful to have a fan give you a compliment. Granted, this advice probably isn’t necessary since every writer I’ve spoken to still gets chills whenever they’re complimented, no matter how famous they are. Regardless, the main point of this ranting jumble of topics is that we should always avoid negativity when possible, and whenever it isn’t possible we have to learn to not take it to heart and react in a way that shows we are capable of intellect and respect. After all, the person who wants to publish your next book might be monitoring just how well you react to compliments and criticism and the wrong response may well send them running.