In the year since I worked up the courage to start writing online, I’ve received my fair share of unwanted criticism. I mean, getting negative comments on your writing is pretty much part and parcel of being a blogger. There are the trolls, of course, who tell me I’m fat and send violent threats. They don’t have to like my writing; they get blocked without a second thought. There are the people who angrily disagree with me (and send me 1000-word essays on why I’m so wrong not to like Harry Potter). They don’t have to like my writing either; they mainly get laughed at. But last month, I wrote a personal essay for HelloGiggles—and for the first time, I received criticism that genuinely hurt me. For the first time in a year, I actually wanted to turn off my computer and give up. Because this time, people said my writing just…didn’t help.
“Do your thing and don’t care if they like it,” is Tina Fey’s advice—and I follow it in most areas of my life. But when it comes to my writing, it’s suddenly not so simple. After all, I write for a reason. My greatest dream in life is for my writing to make a difference: to sway an opinion, to soothe a sadness, to inspire a change. So if people don’t like it, then that can feel an awful lot like failure.
The article I wrote for HelloGiggles was about the months I had spent at the beginning of my marriage sinking into a deep anxiety that it was failing. Despite having lived with my now-husband for two years before we got married, marriage still came as a shock to me—not because our lives changed, but because I felt like they were supposed to. Because after the wedding, people stopped asking me the question “How are you?”, and assumed instead that I would always be happy. Because they would enthuse, “You must be loving married life”—leaving me to worry that the argument we’d had that morning was abnormal.
When marriage is only spoken of as a happy ending, it’s hard to keep hold of a rational understanding of what it’s really supposed to be. If I write the truth, I thought, then people won’t have to be so scared anymore. I really thought that my words would help people.
Instead, HelloGiggles published my essay, and the internet ripped it to shreds. Commenter after commenter called me naive and stupid; they objected that this stuff was common sense and “hardly a revelation”; they accused me of having no grasp on relationships. They made assumptions that I had got married too soon, and even suggested I had married the wrong person. “The entire article just kind of read as a ‘well, duh’ article for me”, said one commenter, but not before calling me a “dumbass”.
I read, trembling, through every last comment, and tried not to cry. I almost asked HelloGiggles to take the article down. I didn’t want anybody to read it ever again. I didn’t want anybody not to like my writing ever again. In one of my biggest overreactions to date, I swore off my blogging dreams, and decided that writing online was not for me.
But a few days later, something drove me to check my Facebook “Other” inbox—and in amongst the spam, I found three messages that changed my mind. Three women, struggling in their own marriages, had read my words—and they’d helped. “I found tears running down my face,” said one; “for the first time since I’ve been married, I felt like someone understood me.”
There were only three of them, compared to the 122 negative comments. But they were the three that mattered.
You can trust your own reasons for writing. You’re never wrong. Getting negative comments on your writing is not proof that you shouldn’t have written it; it’s often the opposite. I wrote that article for people who were struggling with a particular anxiety, and yet I had taken to heart the words of people who were not. I had believed them that my writing wasn’t good enough, when in fact my writing wasn’t for them in the first place. My writing was for those three women who needed it—and whether or not I had ever found their messages, I should have known that.
Here’s my new promise to myself: I will trust in what I want to say, and I will trust in why I want to say it. I will believe myself when I say my writing is going to help somebody. And I will remember that there’s only one person who has to believe in my writing: me.
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