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Bad Feedback, Or Beware of the Trolls

October 15th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments
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There will come a point in your writing career (whether you’re starting out or well established) where someone, somewhere, will dislike what it is you’ve written. And they may not voice this very well.

The Big Problem

It is easier than ever to express your opinion via the internet. With social networking increasingly at the forefront of everyone’s lives (to the detriment of society as a whole, in my humble opinion) it’s now easier (and quicker) to have your voice heard than ever before.

green-haired troll

Internet trolls are not as “cute” as this one. What is it eating? Image courtesy of Eirik Solheim.

While this has the potential for positive use, it is human nature to sink to the depths. I recently saw the trailer for The Fifth Estate, the film about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. One of the lines in the trailer goes something like ‘man speaks least as himself in person, but give that man a mask, and he will speak the truth’.

With an idealistc viewpoint, this is all well and good, but anyone who has spent time in the comments section on YouTube will know “man” is much more likely to express how “he” really feels with perfect anonymity, and that generally paints a very negative picture of humanity.

I was discussing this (tangentially) with Matt the other week. Two subjects came up. And they were both video game related. And they both – unfortunately – related to women. The women in particular were Jennifer Hepler and Anita Sarkesian.

The first is a former writer at BioWare who resigned her position at about the same time someone threatened to kill her children, purely because they didn’t like the way she wrote some characters in Dragon Age 2.

The latter is a person who received similar levels of bile because of her interest in the way women were depicted in video games. Now, I’m no stranger myself to the issues of gender in my writing. And I find this kind of behaviour absolutely unacceptable. But I’m soapboxing.

My point is, there will come a time when someone won’t like what you’ve written. And they may not express this constructively. And you have to learn to deal with that.

Now us writers can be a sensitive lot, with very thin skins. Part and parcel of being ‘creatives’. I know I personally have received some less than favourable feedback in the past (no death threats yet), and have not responded well to it (hexes and summoning the dead to haunt the perpetrators for the rest of their days were my solution).

But at some point you have to let things slide. Especially if you write genre fiction. This can be particularly polarising. I know I’ve read science fiction books I’ve thought were absolutely terrible ‚Äì for varying reasons ‚Äì but I’m not going to vomit fourth rage at the authors for doing so.

My Personal Flaw

I don’t know how many other people are like this, but I feel an almost constant need to explain things. Matt will know what I’m talking about here, because I will usually succumb to giving feedback on my feedback.

That’s not to say I write things like ‘your feedback sucks, do better next time’, more that I will explain certain things that may not have been clear, or the choices I made in the text I wrote.

Now in these circumstances, where the criticism isn’t so vile as death threats, but I feel the need to respond, I instead put the burden of proper communication on myself and my work.

So if I need to feedback, uh, back, I look at what my reply would be and see if it can be applied to the text instead. Say something isn’t clear and I feel the need to explain it better. Then I should re-write my text so it is clear.

Negative Feedback

Negative feedback skirts a fine line. On one hand, it can be the most useful, because it gives you specific flaws or weaknesses in your text (and perhaps your overall writing style) which you can improve and keep an eye on.

This is from Lego Land, but should be posted before any YouTube video, no? Image from sboneham.

This is from Lego Land, but should be posted before any YouTube video, no? Image from sboneham.

On the other hand, some people will tell you ‘I hated it, I can’t believe you thought anyone would like this, I hope you die painfully and alone,’ (because, well, the internet). Again, this isn’t useful. Why did you hate it? What was it about my writing you detested so much you actually want me to die? Give me specifics and I’ll attempt to improve my writing.

(Also, stop being such a passive-aggressive douche-bag. There are far more important things in the world to get angry about besides the way I’ve arranged some words.)

It can feel worse if you’re in the drafting process and you receive less than favourable feedback. Once you’ve been published, that’s no problem (death threats aside). You’ve already got the money, so to hell with them.

As writers we can live in a bit of a bubble – until we are published we may only get feedback from other writers or at least people who are “in the business”. Which can make the occasional piece of feedback that is neither constructive or supportive all the more cutting.

Over to you:
Feel free to drop any feedback in the section below. Remember – constructive criticism only!

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  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    I don’t think you can simply dismiss negative comments just because you’ve got the money. If anything, the public getting hold of something and not liking it is one of the biggest fears for a lot of writers. We generally don’t do it for the money after all.

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure telling someone you want them to die painfully and alone is aggressive-aggressive :-)

    • Craig

      Not if they do it on the Internet, which is where most people express their undiluted fury at things that don’t really matter these days.