NBI: When criticism strikes

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

16 thoughts on “NBI: When criticism strikes

  1. Werit May 11, 2012 / 10:08 am

    Hmm, not sure if I remember that incident or not. it sounds familiar…

  2. Vagabond May 11, 2012 / 10:15 am

    As I am getting older, I slowly advance from 3 to 2, crossing 1 on the way. I certainly agree with you that 3 is mainly pointless, but 2 and 1 are both very useful in some cases.

  3. ferrel May 11, 2012 / 10:18 am

    I think this article is bad and that you’re horrible!

    In all seriousness, Syp is right. Don’t take criticism too seriously. It is easy to let it ruin your day but it comes with the territory. One of my books has a particularly bad review on Amazon. It is unjustified but it exists. It is okay though, I’ll survive! I’ll keep writing and annoying people with my books!

    Not everyone is going to like everything you write and that is acceptable! Keep going and you’ll learn to shake off the nastiness of the interwebs.

  4. tjedgar May 11, 2012 / 10:20 am

    I am blessed in that traditionally I have been very good at playing devils advocate and jumping to an opposing viewpoint, this makes number 2 very easy. I certainly hope the blogger guilty of the act you described got their comeuppance (sp?).
    PS. I chuckled when I read this was instead of your normal link love, as by my count on the forums, I think I am on top of the list of remaining blogs LOL

  5. Ravious May 11, 2012 / 10:31 am

    I have a system. I read the offending comment. Then do nothing. I give it about two hours and pray another valiant reader deals with the troll. I’d say 50-75% someone responds.

    If no one responds in two hours I read it again and try to decide if responding is really worth it. Is this that 1% troll who brings up an issue that “nobody” cares about? Because I fight ideas, baby, and there are stupid ideas not worth responding to. Is it a decent idea wrapped up in troll bacon? That might be better to respond to, just pretend a civil person argued for the idea.

    Finally I write a response, and I would say 50% of the time I just delete the response and close the window.

    This “system” has done me pretty well.

  6. thade May 11, 2012 / 10:32 am

    +1 to this post.

  7. Ninevi May 11, 2012 / 10:51 am

    Thank you for writing this!

    As a newbie and just having barely poked into the blogosphere, this topic has definitely ran across my mind a few times. While I don’t expect much feedback to begin with (people read my prattle? really?!) there’s been instances where I’ve worried about not having facts straight or making stupid mistakes where someone could come in and completely disprove anything I’ve written. But then I’ve got to remind myself — I’m mainly blogging for my own satisfaction, not to please any particular audience to begin with.

    It’s sad to hear about the blogger you mentioned. I hope that if anybody has to deal with that kind of experience in the future, they’ll try again and not entirely give up due to one person’s extreme negativity, regardless of how well-established said person is.

  8. rowan May 11, 2012 / 11:07 am

    Hear! Hear!

    I have on occasion “engaged” people whom I have later decided were trolls, even on this very blog. Another thing to remember is that something that is a big deal you as a writer or gamer may not matter to someone else. But if they take the trouble to belittle its significance, this is a sure sign of a troll.

  9. Ardent Defender May 11, 2012 / 12:05 pm

    This is really on topic and something any new blogger or game blogger will have to get used to.

    The more well known you get, the more hits your blog gets, the more exposed you get, the more popular you get and the more controversial you are you will attract people who want to just troll your comments and attach you negatively or just your blog for your success. No one will ever attack you on your blog if you never step out and write or write about anything!

    I remember when I started blogging back when I played WoW in the early days as only months been blogging. Someone one day who never commented before decided to attack me personally for what I had written in some post. It wasn’t even the regular reader all 1-2 if them maybe. The comments the reader wrote kinda got to me so before I responded I just approved the comment and just ignored it. I though about it fir hours, ruining my day it did as I thought about it.

    I think I just responded by ignoring the comment and smiling at the reader. I got over it after that. That person never showed up in my blog comments again. But people will try and attack you just for the sake of it and to test to see how you will respond or just want to troll you as you become more popular. In time you grow a thicker skin learning how to deal with it all.

    I dont mind constructive or engaging comment criticism or from a regular reader engaging in actual discussion. I can respect that and from a regular reader. But random negative trolling from someone who never commented I can choose to ignore it, respond later in time or just kindly throw some sugar on it. Get it out of my mind so it don’t leave me bothered.

    But expect these things to happen to you as a new blogger as you get a bit seasoned. Just find a way to deal with it that works for YOU!

  10. Ardent Defender May 11, 2012 / 12:14 pm

    Another thing is if you got enough regular readers of your blog as you grow those people as readers/commenters will eventually take care of your blog trolls. Some the unwarranted comments from some mysterious or vile commenter will probably get engaged by someone else commenting on the blog as other people reads it.

  11. tjedgar May 11, 2012 / 12:17 pm

    There is another way of counteracting this mentality as well, and that’s if your reading a blog and someone posts something explosively negative and it isn’t warranted, say something.
    Be the guy/gal who steps up. Too often human nature is willing to complain, not often enough are they willing to compliment and even worse is that we as a whole don’t like to get in the middle.
    I say do it, step up, give the blog owner their self esteem back by pointing out you at least like what they have to say, I can almost guarantee that kind of post will stay with the Blogger a LOT longer than the original negative post.

  12. wloire May 11, 2012 / 6:34 pm

    …is this a prelude to a quitting TOR post?

  13. shadowspawned May 11, 2012 / 7:16 pm

    Excellent choice of subject and appropriately timed as sooner of later most new bloggers will have it happen to them. The choice of the picture was inspired though!

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