At some point, we’re likely to run into negativity in our lives. Maybe we have a friend or relative who likes to complain—loudly—every time they go out to eat, to the point that we’re embarrassed to be seen with them. Maybe we have a boss who berates us publicly in meetings with our co-workers. Maybe we have a parent or spouse who tells us we’re not “good enough” to succeed at something.
It sucks. And quite frankly, it can be a form of emotional abuse.
Unfortunately, we’re likely to run into negativity in our writer-lives as well. Feedback might be filled with cruel “give up” put-downs. We might be attacked by internet trolls. Reviews might rip apart us, personally, instead of focusing on our book.
That kind of negativity sucks too. And I don’t think anyone would blame us for trying to avoid it as much as possible.
So the question then becomes, how do we want to avoid it? What are we willing to do? What’s our personal policy for how to handle negativity from others?
Negativity Surrounds Us—Now What?
It’s near impossible to avoid all negativity. Most sources of news focus exclusively on the bad, and we often can’t completely check out from current events and all connections to family, friends, or social media.
At the same time, the internet has created more paths to negativity:
- “Don’t discuss religion or politics” has often been advice for getting along with others—and many ignore that advice on social media.
- Worldwide social media can lead to more culture clashes.
- Social media and blogs and comments have given everyone a voice—which leads some to feel entitled to be heard.
- Anonymity leads some to say things they’d never say in person, or to not have to treat the name on the other end of the screen as a real person with feelings.
It’s inevitable that we’re all going to have to face negativity, so we have to decide how to handle it. Some people choose to avoid sources of negativity, whether that means not reading reviews of their books or staying off Facebook or Twitter during events that stir up negativity, and some people proclaim certain aspects of their lives safe spaces and defend them vigorously.
There’s no “always right” answer because we’re each going to have a different line of discomfort. Some hate confrontation, and some revel in it, etc.
We each have to find what we’re willing to live with, from the perspective both of how to combat and/or avoid negativity and of what we’ll put up with to maintain connections to others. Only we can make that decision.
Negativity, Opinions, and Free Speech
In the U.S., the importance of free speech is sometimes explained with a quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall (this quote is often misattributed to Voltaire, but actually comes from Evelyn’s biography of Voltaire, where she summarized his beliefs):
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Whether you believe in that or not, that quote gives us a start in examining how we might want to interact with those we disagree with, especially if they’re full of negativity:
- Does “defending to the death” mean people should be allowed to say whatever they want, wherever they want? Or should we be able to control our own online spaces?
- What about in public spaces? Is it okay to try to remove the platform of someone spouting views we disagree with (such as by trying to get their media platform canceled)? What if the only way to take away that platform would be to destroy their life (dragging them through the mud in every way possible)?
- Should we always try to disagree in a respectful way? How does that affect our choices?
There are no easy answers to those questions, but I’ve often reminded myself that free speech doesn’t guarantee that anyone will care about someone’s opinions or prevent others from invoking the right to not listen. The freedom to say what we want doesn’t mean anyone is owed a platform.
Negativity Example #1: The Entitlement Problem
That attitude about not owing someone a platform goes double when we’re talking about our online spaces. Nora Roberts, mega-author of both romance and futuristic suspense stories (as J.D. Robb), posted last week on her blog about her struggle with creating a virtual positive space on her own blog and Facebook page.
No matter the conversation topic, someone will feel the need to dump negativity on Nora and her readers. When confronted, they’ll reply:
“It’s just my opinion.”
Everyone has opinions. That’s not special. Having an opinion doesn’t give anyone the right to be rude, especially in someone else’s spaces. No one is entitled to spout their negativity anywhere and everywhere. No one is entitled to be heard.
My Decision: My Blog Is Not a Platform for Others
I’ve seen this myself on my blog. About six months ago, someone started leaving comments on my older posts—disagreeing with every post topic. According to them, head-hopping is wonderful, showing is awful, both character and plot-driven stories are insipid (theoretical ideas only, please), intrusive omniscient narrators are the way to go, info dumps are to be applauded, etc.
At first I shrugged. I don’t take offense when people disagree with me. I wished this person luck with their writing and with finding an audience who appreciated their style.
But as the comments rose into the double digits (and continued over weeks and months), the comments started feeling like graffiti on my blog. I went into “maybe you should visit a different blog with advice more to your liking” mode. They didn’t take me up on my suggestion.
Finally, as the number of comments continued increasing, and as this person’s comments insulted my other commenters and my guest posters, the reality of the situation dawned on me:
Some people just want to be negative in someone else’s spaces.
I don’t have to put up with that on my blog or my Facebook wall. No one is entitled to my or my readers’ attention, and I don’t have to give it to them. So I deleted all their comments.
I didn’t put a *smile* after that line (even though I thought about it) because that decision didn’t make me happy. But the truth is that we’re allowed to create policies about negativity for ourselves and our spaces.
My blog or Facebook wall doesn’t have to be someone else’s platform for spouting their views. They’re welcome to start their own blog and create their own spaces for that.
My decision isn’t about censorship, shutting down freedom of speech, or saying someone isn’t entitled to their opinion. They’re absolutely entitled to their opinion. But their platform for sharing that opinion doesn’t have to be here.
Negativity Example #2: Opinions Are Subjective
The second issue Nora brought up in her post is that some people leaving their opinions on her spaces try to tell her how to do her job. “You should write this way.” “You shouldn’t write those kinds of stories.”
In other words, they’re full of opinions. Storytelling, thy name is subjective.
These aren’t readers pointing out factual issues (typos, historical errors, etc.). Nope, just opinions—that they are bound and determined to tell the author. They demand that the author listen to their opinions. When questioned, those posters’ defense of “It’s just my opinion” usually include a “You should learn how to take constructive criticism” tone.
To those with “constructive criticism” opinions, Nora again says:
“Bite me. … The reader is not my employer… Not welcome. Not asked for. Not accepted. … A book doesn’t come with a suggestion box, and the writer is not obliged to sculpt a story to your specific needs.”
In one of my Facebook groups, we discussed whether this response was too harsh. After all, for indie authors, the reader is the customer.
But no matter how much we respect readers, we can’t treat them as customers in a “The Customer Is Always Right” way because what some readers love, others will hate. Even if we’re not published yet, we’ve probably seen this with conflicting feedback from beta readers or critique groups.
Multiply that by thousands of readers, and we have a situation where we do have to ignore our readers’ “constructive criticism.” Just because something doesn’t work for one reader doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Opinions stated as “this thing I didn’t like means something is most definitely wrong” are inappropriate to post on an author’s blog, Facebook wall or page, etc.
Those readers can vent away in their own blogs, Goodreads groups, reviews, etc. There are plenty of reader spaces, and out of the millions of sites on the internet, they’re being asked to avoid negativity on less than a handful.
The only reason they’d seek out the author’s spaces to state their negative opinion is if they felt entitled to have their opinion heard by the author. They want to hijack the author’s spaces as a megaphone to spread their opinion.
Now, some of us might choose to listen to readers through reviews or whatnot, just to get a feel for whether there’s an issue of something not working at all. But we could seek out review sites for that information. We don’t have to invite that feedback into our spaces unless we want.
I’ve written before about how we have the right to decide how our spaces are run. We can come up with spam policies, moderation policies, commenting policies, etc. Having a negativity policy is just another way to control our spaces. We might not be able to avoid negativity everywhere, but if we think of our spaces as our online home, we get to decide who we let in the front door. *smile*
Do you try to avoid negativity, and if so, how? How do you handle those you disagree with? Do you try to prevent negativity in your spaces, and if so, how? Do you think I was wrong to delete those comments? Do you agree or disagree with Nora Roberts’ attitude toward constructive criticism from readers?Pin It