Here’s something I’ve learned from decades of publishing.
When you are a writer (or podcaster, or visual artist) with something to say, you will inevitably attract an audience.
And you will inevitably become a target of critics.
When you express yourself clearly, with conviction and experience and wisdom as your guide, you will inspire readers. But, you will also piss a segment of your audience off.
The latter are people who recognize something they don’t like about themselves in your words, and through social media are conditioned to think that drive by insults are permissible (because of course, in the real world, they are not). They will troll you, claim their second of “victory,” and then return to their regular diet of YouTube videos and porn.
Ignore them. They are beneath you.
Because you are something they are not.
You’re a creator.
This is not a call to be aloof, and wear blinders to criticism. Stay alert. Listen to legitimate feedback. You will be wrong from time to time. I’ve been wrong, and made mistakes, many times in my life. Own up to errors; use them to get better.
But, when you write from a place of strength, genuine expression, and your own unique viewpoint, i.e., a place of Truth, a handful of haters will have a problem with it. Recognize that the problem is in them, not you. Understand that they have work to do on themselves. Ignore them, and if you can find it in your heart, find pity for them. They can’t see their own limitations and pettiness; one day they may.
But above all, don’t give them the gift of your precious attention. Time is your only irreplaceable resource. Stay on your path. Keep creating.
Here’s a helpful coping strategy: Critics and haters are an inevitable part of the game. They are indicative of success. Despite my annoyances, I like them because it means I’m writing well.
This is not a call to be an edgelord, to produce antagonistic and needlessly provocative material. But if you don’t piss anyone off, ever, you’re probably doing something wrong.
One of the quotes I return to again and again is Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena. You probably have heard it before, but if not, here it is:
“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, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I am the man in the arena. I’ve written thousands of newspaper stories, and newsletter and journal articles. Thousands more blog posts, for this blog and a dozen other websites. I’ve written dozens of print essays. And now a book. I’ve hosted and produced hundreds of podcast episodes. Spoken in front of audiences larger than a thousand, for more than a decade. I’ve mentored young writers and editors, and led teams.
And, I’ve been paid well to do it. I earn my living at the keyboard. I’ve won multiple awards.
This is not boasting; these are facts. I am now at the place where I can distinguish cheap attacks from legitimate critiques, because I know far more than just about all my critics. More about my own work, and about what it means to be a professional, then they do.
If you’ve written, or painted, or coded a website, built a house, made anything using your creativity and your heart and soul, you too are that man in the arena. You are a striver and doer of deeds; your critics are the cold, timid souls hurling insults from the sidelines. Never donning the pads and getting dirty in the playing field, where it counts.
Win or lose, you are striving, and your striving is admirable. That makes me your fan.
My advice to anyone reading this who creates for a living: Keep doing it. You’ve already accomplished more than 90% of the world ever will. Don’t take praise as a sign you are unassailable; stay humble. But likewise, don’t take criticism personally; stay the course.
If you can do this, you will win.