I write a column for a trade magazine. I get a lot of fan mail (he said modestly). I have a folder stocked with happy reader feedback so if I ever need talking in off the ledge, many kind subscribers’ letters to the editor might stop me from the jump to pavement lasagna. But, of course, it’s the negative reviews you remember.
What’s surprising about negative feedback is how surprising it is. Let me explain that obnoxious tautology: I’ve written columns I was certain would stick in somebody’s craw. I’m reasoned, but sometimes provocative and I do poke the odd sacred cow through the skull with a nail gun.
But it’s often the posts
I consider more bland which spark readers’ ire most!
For instance, I wrote a humorous feature that detailed the uses of therapeutic laughter. The tone was light, though I did stir in an interview with a neurobiologist and instructive tips. Most people didn’t just like it. They loved it. We got a lot of really nice letters. It’s a special thing when people take the time to say good things about you. The spur to action usually skews the other way. Angry people write more letters than happy people do.)
As great as the response to the article was, from that same feature there was one letter from the reader who did not just like it. In fact, she loathed the piece (and me.) She objected to the jokes. It was clear she didn’t get the jokes. There are, perhaps, billions of people who don’t share my sense of humor. Not only can I not change that, I wouldn’t want to appeal to the humorless.
People who get all angsty and vituperative about your writing share a common trait. They act like the one thing you write is the sum and totality of your writing. It kind of amuses me (okay, it amuses me after some time passes) when people get bent out of shape from one thing I wrote. I write lots of stuff. Read it all and get really pissed, or realize that if you don’t care for something, there’s always the next page. There’s always something else to read.
Don’t say something you don’t believe just to be provocative. Satire is fine. Parody’s good. Be fun and playful. Be as funny as you like, but make time to be sincere when you’re making a serious point. Don’t pander.
People sometimes accuse Bill Maher of saying outrageous stuff just to get a reaction. Not true. One survey showed that Maher’s die hard fans only agreed with him 14% of the time! He’s funny, insightful and can be cranky. But he’s not a crank easily dismissed. He’s thinking and doesn’t fall to one side of all issues all of the time.
This is counterintuitive to how many people act as they write their (unread) blog pasts. People often think that only people who agree with them will like them. If you’re funny and interesting and reasoned, thinking people will listen. Your blog’s grasp can go beyond the reach of your mom.
When I read blog posts I dislike, I rarely comment on something with which I disagree unless I know the people involved or think it will make a difference. I won’t be phoning Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck to try to disagree with him on air, for instance. People don’t listen to Rush to get ideas. They listen to confirm their own fears and prejudices. Echo chambers aren’t designed for more than one loud voice. Life’s too short to pursue debates with people who will never change their minds no matter what. (And I won’t change my mind on that.)
“Pearls before swine,” as Jesus said.
(Note to Mr. Beck: Jesus is an important guy in the bible whose words are written in red so they are easy to find. Like you, he talks about economics a lot, too. You appear unaware of the things Jesus said. Take a look.)
Real world example: Today a friend linked to a post so I checked it out. I found it utterly vile. The essay was an extreme so-serious-I-hope-it’s-parody, divisive, lying hit piece that underestimated both liberal and conservative thought. I didn’t comment on the post itself because I’m not giving that hateful essayist the satisfaction. Instead I left a comment on the original Facebook link to let my friend know I thought his link choice was disturbing.
To be fair to him, his intent puzzled me. I’m really not sure if he linked to it as an example of a good thing or a bad thing. Whatever his opinion on that issue, he’s still a great guy and a great friend and I’m not writing him off if he shares those (crazy) views. He no doubt has a lot of other views I agree with and I know he is an admirable, heroic fellow. (And no, I don’t know if he reads this blog or not since he’s not in publishing.)
Don’t provide links to hate-filled sites.
Debate and dialogue of substance? Okay.
Stupid shit? No time.
The take away? Don’t let negative feedback throw you. If what you write is so bland it never offends anyone, it often isn’t worth writing. There’s nothing new and interesting about your blog posts if every one of them is the equivalent of a basket of puppies. If you’re going to keep readers, you’re going to have to be compelling, informative or at least engaging. Don’t tell me about the weather. Say something you believe. Make me laugh. Make me spew my coffee over the screen. Set a basket of puppies on fire once in a while.
Case in point: You might expect conservative readers to object to me condescending to Glenn Beck. Perhaps defenders of the mentally unstable will chime in on that score, too. You might expect liberal readers to object to any mention of Rush or Beck since they already get too much attention everywhere. Maybe you think people will get angry about the notion of setting fire to a basket of puppies.
Personally? Since a basket of puppies set afire is an obvious joke in terrible taste, I’m betting someone will object to the reference to a nail gun through a cow’s skull. Vegans are fascists worse than Hitler. (Kidding! Kidding!)
As Bill Maher says, “I kid! I kid because I love!”
Filed under: blogs & blogging, Intentionally Hilarious, Rant, Rejection, reviews, Writers, writing tips, Beck, Bill Maher, blogging, blogs, controversy, Glenn Beck, Humor, Jesus