What do you do when the trolls come marching in?
Online trolls routinely call me a spammer, a hack, a link-baiter, a self-centered and flippant asshole, and shoddy excuse for a writer who would do better if I stopped putting articles out.
And that’s just from last week. Seriously.
The week before last, I got a review from a reader who said he wanted to come to my house and punch me in the face for writing my latest book.
I’m not telling you this for sympathy or shock value or to scare you; I’m just telling you what can happen when your work reaches other people, even if it’s not many. They might hate it. They might hate it enough to hate you for making it. They might hate it so much that they need to tell you how much they hate it and you, and then tell others.
Such is the state of the Internet.
Anyone with an opinion can dole it out—publicly on social media, in comments, on their own website, or privately via email or phone. I receive all of these on regular basis.
It’s not just me either, it happens to anyone who has ever created anything and shared it with others.
John Nolan, the guy who created Ghost (a blogging platform), raised $300k to build his free, open-source platform through a crazy successful Kickstarter campaign and much media and nerd fanfare. His idea went from zero to a big deal fairly quickly.
On launch day someone tweeted, “@JohnONolan – $300,000 and Ghost is total piece of shit. How do you feel?”
How should he feel? Something he poured his life into to build for the past 18 months was summarily and publicly written off by some troll who probably didn’t pledge a cent and wouldn’t ever use the app.
The problem is that the more someone’s work gets out there, the easier it seems to be to criticize them. A troll’s aim doesn’t have to be as good when they’re taking potshots if that person is in the spotlight.
What’s worse is we hold these people to higher standards if they’ve made something of themselves. If they speak out, reply undiplomatically, or just stand up for themselves, it’s seen as bad. Like they’re attacking an underdog (who attacked them first). I’ve seen it happen with others and I’ve been called out for doing it myself.
Perception is a such a weird and screwed up thing, especially online. I try to be honest in how I put myself out there, and am okay with my flawed —and sometimes angry— public self when I’m standing up for what I believe in.
Here’s what I won’t do, though: I won’t let criticism or my own fears of criticism affect my work. It was a turning point for me when I realized that fear and action can exist in parallel. Realizing that led to me to start writing and sharing more. It led me to experiment publicly with how to put my work into the world. It has led to some verbal battles, some embarrassing mistakes, and absolutely zero regrets.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” – Teddy Roosevelt (1910) via Brené Brown
Progress as a creative is impossible if we let our fear dictate our actions and our art. It’s why Seth Godin doesn’t have comments on his website. We should be more concerned with our work being an honest representation of ourselves than hoping it’s not going to offend anyone.
We share our creativity because we know that even though there’s the risk of criticism, hate, and judgment, there’s also the opportunity to connect, change, and most importantly, to help.
I don’t need to save the hateful, personally attacking, and negative emails because I remember every single one of them, even if I only read them once. But I actually save the emails from anyone who has told me my writing has done something positive —even tiny— for their lives or their art. Those emails I need to be reminded of from time to time.
Just today (timely, right?) I received an email from a substance abuse counselor who asked if she could share an article I wrote with her group of people in recovery. It’s an article that I’ve been told “brings nothing to the table” and “is a waste of words.” It was a business article but she said how much it related to and could help her group understand the commitment of giving your word. My day = totally made. Email = saved.
If we let even one person sway us in sharing our art, our work, our voice—then they win. And I’m not into online trolls winning. They can have their bridges, but not our creativity.