Watch your reaction

January 17, 2015

One of the greatest benefits of writing in public is that I’ve grown a thick skin. The readers at Random Curiosity are absolutely wonderful … most of the time. With any website of its size, you inevitably get a few trolls and assholes, and in dealing with them I learned how to process criticism.

Here’s my trick: Watch your reaction. If someone says something mean to you, it usually comes in one of two flavors.

  • It’s them. You read their comment and go “What an asshole!”, and are disgusted that they unjustly shat all over your day. (Unjustly being the key word.) When your starting out, this criticism can be damning—humans always focus on the one negative comment over the hundreds of positive ones, because we’re insane like that.
  • It’s you. Or possibly, it’s both. Sometimes you’ll get a bit of criticism which, no matter how vile the language that’s used to deliver it, may strike extra deep. The reason for this is often that there’s a ring of truth in it.

The most difficult part is building up for immunity and nurturing a good enough sense of self to be able to distinguish between asinine trolling and criticism that may have a point. And I don’t know how to tell you to do that, because I came to it relatively naturally. Having an overblown ego is one of my favorite things about myself.

What I can do is give you examples, from the feedback I’ve received since the release of Wage Slave Rebellion. I’ve gotten plenty of feedback that I was able to dismiss out of hand, and most of it came from knowing what I wanted to do. For instance, I had people tell me that my characters names were too weird, that adding k’s onto words (Ex: magick) is annoying, and that Mazik should stop yelling out him-centric spell names. To all of which I responded: I don’t care. That’s not the story I wanted to tell, and if my story doesn’t work for them, that’s fine. There are plenty of others who will love it.

There were also a few who were vitriolic and incoherent with the bile they spewed. They just made me laugh. I’ve gotten good at ignoring them.

Then there were the ones that struck deep, because there was a ring of truth to them. The most common of those were criticisms about my use of footnotes. To be clear: to those who said I should stop doing them entirely? Once again, I don’t care. I like using them, they’re useful, and I’m going to continue using them until I don’t want to anymore.

But there were those who weren’t completely against them, and just felt they weren’t good enough. I read that, and a flash of embarrassment went through me, and I knew they were right.

You see, I wrote Wage Slave Rebellion with the footnotes formatted as unnumbered footnotes, but the conversion to ebook required them to become numbered endnotes. That wasn’t a problem, except it made me realize I had 100 of the things.

I remember thinking “I may have gone a bit overboard on those,”—I may have said it out loud—but I wanted to see how the book would do, so I decided to go ahead and release it. Perfection, after all, shouldn’t get in the way of finishing the work.

So when I got exactly the criticism I feared I would, it struck deep. That’s because I knew it was true, and because I have faith in myself and my self-confidence, I knew it wasn’t me beating myself up unnecessarily. I had just messed up.

So I fixed the mistake. Yesterday I uploaded a revision to Wage Slave Rebellion, which shrunk the number of footnotes from 100 to 60, eliminating the weakest ones and incorporating others into the main body text. I also corrected a few typos as well. Over all the story is exactly the same, I just fixed one glaring weakness.

I’m going to work on getting the new version pushed out to everyone who bought it before the patch. If you want to make sure you automatically get updates for all your Kindle books, you can follow the instructions here.

Processing criticism (or blind vitrol) is a skill like everything else—you must practice, practice, practice. The tricky part is that, even when you think you’ve got it down, you may be wrong. It takes practice to sense that ring of truth, and more still to know when to ignore it because that’s not what you want to do. The biggest advice I can give is this:

Write in public, frequently, and on a deadline, and do it for as long as you can. You’ll make mistakes, and in the process of screwing up, you’ll learn how to manage the feedback.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

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