I began my career in journalism on a three-person, junior-high newspaper staff in which we all gave ourselves the title “editor-in-chief.” Back then, I thought that I would love nothing better than to have my own column someday. I would call it something catchy that included my name, such as “Leeway” or “ObviousLee”. Every day, as I would flip through The Washington Post, I would see the frequent bylines of people like Richard Cohen or George Will or Erma Bombeck and think, I could do that! Really, I could!
But as the decades went by, something happened to that irrepressible confidence of youth. Due to a confluence of reasons–personality, ego-shattering incidents in childhood, culture–over time I became less inclined to want to offend people. I moved from desiring to be a columnist to becoming more of a journalist, adopting a “just the facts” style of reporting and analysis which was perfect for someone like me – for whom people-pleasing had become deeply engrained.
But now, it’s the age of blogging and everyone is a columnist. Our blogs and blog posts are our chance to tell the world exactly what we think, to stand up for our convictions, and to express those values and beliefs that we hold dear, even as we know there will always be those who disagree, and sometimes vehemently so, with our opinions.
And this is why blogging has been hard for me. It goes against years of conditioning to be willing to say what I really think and feel, especially if it might be unpopular. In the back of my mind, whenever I write something for public consumption, I can hear the whispers of insecurity: “What will people think? What if they don’t agree? What if they hate what I think?”
I don’t know any writers who enjoy being criticized, but I know many who seem to have much thicker skin than I do. And it was hard to imagine having that same sort of fortitude in the face of rancorous criticism. That is, until it happened to me.
I recently wrote a post for UrbanFaith.com about a song/video called “Gangnam Style,” a YouTube sensation that has more than 220 million views and counting. You can see my post here, but the relevant point is that one of the comments lambasted what I wrote:
“Oh my God.. this is the worst and worthless article I have ever read on Gangnam Style….I really feel that people like you have talents to make this happy world dark with no reason.”
It was the exact kind of criticism that no writer would wish upon himself or herself. It was the first time anything I’d written elicited this kind of response. It was the sort of feedback that I had implicitly feared, that kept me from being willing to tackle more controversial issues and content in my writing and blogging life.
But after I read the comment, I was utterly surprised and shocked to discover that I felt. . .amused! Not crushed, not demoralized, not defeated, not embarrassed. All the things that I expected to feel upon receiving this sort of feedback did not materialize. Now granted, if the feedback had come from someone who I knew and respected instead of anonymous commenter, maybe I would have felt differently. But even so, the experience of having been criticized with harshness, and to not let it bother me, was utterly gratifying. By trying to avoid experiencing criticism in my writing life, perhaps I’ve avoided the exact thing I need to make myself stronger and more able to deal with future criticism.
And it was also gratifying to know that I had people who had my back, who were willing to post words of support and let me know that they appreciated what I had to say, that even if one or more people hated what I’d written, there were still those who appreciated my perspective.
So if you are a writer like me, afraid to offend, afraid to be misunderstood, afraid to be criticized, but at the same time you feel you have things to say, then let me encourage you today to put the fear aside and write what you have been called to write. You may have haters, yes. You may receive any number of insults about your writing and ideas, any number of accusations. Yes, even “you have talents to make this happy world dark with no reason.”
But go ahead and write. For some you may make the world darker, but if you are writing what you are called to write, then for many others, you will make the world better. And may the criticisms, when they come–and they will come–make you stronger for having heard them.
How have you handled being criticized for your writing?