Friday, June 27, 2014

Do the Angry Newbie or How Not to Respond to Criticism

Ever since the early days of the World Wide Web in 1996 I've had a talent for making enemies.  I'm pretty much like Charles Bukowski's barfly getting into one brawl after another at the great watering hole that is Internet forums.  Although as I near middle age I've mellowed a little, but sometimes I still get into the occasional dust-up.  I've found a certain pattern concerning these dust-ups on writing critique sites--or just one site really.

What happened a couple weeks ago is a pretty good example of how it goes down.  Someone posted a proposed third version of a query letter that was just godawful.  I mean it was a huge step back from the first two versions.  It was like she (I'm assuming from the screen name) had gotten bonked on the head and forgotten everything she'd learned about writing query letters.

So because I'm a Grumpy Bulldog and tired and this was pretty bad I couldn't resist a smart-ass comment comparing it to someone else who had recently written some really awful queries.  (That guy was a real piece of work.  I mean the more people tried to help the worse he seemed to get.)  Now of course we cue the histrionics.

Step One:  Sarcastic Whining:
The first thing she does is give me the old "Thanks for being so unhelpful."  Followed by "I thought this place was supposed to be for people to help each other!"

Which really people (including me) did try to help you twice already and instead of getting better you actually got worse.  Also apparently my previous attempts to help didn't count.  What have you done for me lately?

Step Two:  Passive Aggressive:
The next thing she does is make sure to heap lots of praise on everyone else who replied.  And in most cases they'll be sure to thank those people by name while making sure to exclude me.  Ooh, take that!  I find that more childish than hurtful.

Step Three:  Hypocritical Personal Attack:
When our paths crossed again (because a low-traffic forum is like a small town that way) then it was time for her to bring out the big guns.  Basically saying, "I've read some of your work recently and it's not good at all!"  They also like to sprinkle in words like "troll" and "bullying" too, though I think they have a pretty low standard for bullying.

The fallacy here is that first of all you attacking my work doesn't sting because A) You're obviously not objective and B) You're not anyone important.  Or to put it succinctly, some unpublished nobody who's mad at me saying they don't like my work doesn't really matter to me.

Sometimes they might try to go deeper into other personal areas.  The thing is if I put something on my profile on the forum or on Twitter or this here blog or wherever then it doesn't hurt when you throw it back at me.  Obviously if I wrote and posted it then I didn't care who reads it.

The other thing is this is so hypocritical.  You're attacking me personally because I said something you didn't like about your writing.  Not you, personally, but about your writing that you posted.  And I'm the big bad bullying troll?  Maybe you should look in the mirror, honey.

Step Four:  Bid for Martyrdom:
Usually these people leave pretty shortly after.  I don't even think it's me so much as this type of person isn't really joining the group so much as looking for free critiques.  (Or really just validation.)  Once they've used that up they take off.  Though often enough they have to throw a little tantrum on the way out.  "You're mean so I'm going to take my ball and go home!"  Which usually then only brings the response of, "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."

The thing here is usually this person hasn't made any other contributions other than asking for free critiques.  They don't seem to realize that them leaving isn't really that big of a deal because they haven't added anything of value for people to miss.  Such a tantrum is certainly not going to make me run after them shouting, "No, come back!"  Which is what I'm sure they want so they can say they won't come back or only come back on their terms.  But really if you want people to do that then actually give something back first.

I don't think I've met anyone yet who's understood I'm trying to be helpful in my own tough love Grumpy Bulldog way.  It is a dog-eat-dog business; if you can't handle one not nice comment, how are you going to handle all the rejection that's sure to come?  I've run into some nasty critiques and I don't know if it really made me better, but it probably did help to knock me down a peg.  It's so easy when you're starting out to think you're the hero of the story, the Chosen One who's going to stand out among all the others because you're you and how can anyone deny your greatness?

As they say though it's how you deal with such incidents that show your true colors.  The Angry Newbie schtick outlined above is not how to handle it.  If you don't like my "bullying" then take the high road.  Don't respond or say something bland like "I'll consider that."  And don't go into all that passive aggressive crap either like in step two.  You're better than that, right?  That's why you're the Chosen One and I'm not, right?  Don't become what you profess to hate; that path leads to the dark side.


  1. I've noticed that criticism can be given in good or bad ways, but some people don't know how to accept any criticism.

  2. In a similar vein, I saw someone post today on FB that she was removing her book from sale on Amazon because she couldn't handle all of the negative reviews. Of course, there were tons of people who responded, "Oh, no! You're great! You should just ignore all those mean people!" And she was appropriately appreciative of all of the "support." I will be interested to see if she actually does pull the book down.

  3. Meh. I've learned not to give a shit what people say about me or my writing.

  4. I take bad reviews (and rejections) personally, but then I try to respond like a professional. So I let it bug me a bit and then work with it -- trying to take the criticism and improve whatever the problem was (or at least understand it.) I've started replying to not-so-good reviews by thanking the person and offering a different book they might like.

    That said, there's a better and worse way to provide criticism or rejection, and doing it politely isn't a bad idea.

    You are dead-on about the type of people you're talking about here: they don't want critiques, they want validation. Our oldest daughter used to ask for my opinion on stuff, and then when I'd give it to her, she'd ask again or question it, and I'd finally say "What answer do you WANT from me?" That's how a lot of writers are. They just want to hear "this was great!"



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