I want to take a day off of the link love from the Newbie Blogger Initiative to share my thoughts on one of the darker topics of blogging: criticism and attacks.
Back when we first did this type of initiative, it was for Warhammer Online blogs, and it was mostly a very positive experience for all involved. Several bloggers who got their start from that initiative are still around today, and I feel that the blogosphere would’ve been much poorer without them. However, there was one blogger who never made it to the end of the month.
I don’t even remember what his blog was named, but I recall he was about three or so posts into his run when an established blogger descended upon him to rip one of his posts apart in a scathing review. It was not only uncalled for, but so brutal that the new blogger up and quit the scene that day. I was personally furious at the attacker and dismayed that anyone could think that attacking a post from a burgeoning writer was a good idea.
That’s stuck with me over the years, because it’s a simple truth that criticism (both constructive and unwarranted) comes with the territory. I’ve known this from writing movie reviews for over 13 years now, and as I’ve told my fellow writers, the longer you do this, the closer to a 100% chance that you’re going to royally tick someone off by writing an opinion that they don’t agree with. The same with blogging; we may all be fellow gamers and (generally) MMO enthusiasts, but no two of us think alike on anything. Personalities don’t always mesh and sometimes will clash, and the instant access and relative anonymity of the internet means that anyone who sticks their neck out creatively is an easy target for those feeling malicious or disgruntled.
So as a blogger, you will get criticized and attacked by commenters and other bloggers. Some bloggers thrive on this, developing a culture of negativity and gleefully trolling readers to get the responses (and page views) desired. Sometimes it happens to the very nicest or most sincere of us. In my experience, it happens mostly when I step out with an opinion that’s kicking around in my head, even though I know it’s not going to be universally shared. I respect those who respond without making it personal, but that’s a hard thing for a critic to do. No matter what, it puts a sour taste in your mouth and can make you say to yourself, “Then why did I spend all this time creating this article if this is the end result?”
The answer should be that you’re writing for yourself and shouldn’t care what others think, although that’s never quite true. Hopefully this sort of thing doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it’s important to know in advance how you’re going to respond. Responses to criticism really boil down to three approaches:
- Ignore it. You’ve had your say, they’ve had their say, and getting into it past this point isn’t going to help anything. This is the only way to deal with the unreasonable and the outright trolls. If it’s really eating away at you, vent in private to trusted friends.
- Engage it. Blog posts are often the beginning of conversations and discussions, not the end. Talk with those criticising you. Be gracious. Try to see their point. Look for common ground. And if you examine your stance and feel you’re still right, stand your ground.
- Fight it. This is an option, but let me tell you that it just never works. Getting into a name-calling, wittier-than-thou back-and-forth with a critic is a tactic that’s as old as Usenet (and before), and these quickly develop into flame wars in which common sense and courtesy is nowhere to be found. If you feel the urge to fight back, ask yourself if this is what the critic truly wants. Chances are they do, and you’re playing right into their hand. Fighting back gives their narrative legitimacy and keeps the focus on what they said. Again, not worth it.
None of us are infallible, and plenty of times we’re going to say dumb stuff, contradict ourselves, or simply take a stance that isn’t universally shared. That’s okay. Bloggers have to develop a thicker skin to handle this stuff. It’s just part of the trade.