Comment is free – and occasionally a free-for-all

CriticismA recent Guardian article about internet trolls highlights how modern writers perhaps need thicker skins than those of yesteryear.

That isn’t to say that trolling is an acceptable form of behaviour and that writers should simply toughen up. It’s merely acknowledgement of the fact that articles posted online allow for instant feedback from readers and that this brings cons as well as pros.

Reader response

Back in the day, when everything appeared in print, a writer only really received feedback from editors and sub-editors. Perhaps someone would go to the trouble of writing a letter to complain about a particular piece, but by and large the writer was kept a safe distance from the readership.

In print, you can easily forget that your words might be read by thousands of people, but online you rarely have that luxury. Produce poor work and the readers are right there to tell you about it using wonderfully colourful prose.

The value of comments

In general, comments are valuable. Many people make an effort to advance the discussion and even those who highlight mistakes are doing something worthwhile, allowing you to make changes to improve the article for future readers.

However, there are also those who simply abuse the writer. Not everyone can argue with skill and for many people a difference in opinion is a call to arms. When these people disagree, they go on the offensive and it is far easier to get personal when protected by the anonymity and distance provided by the web.

Learning to identify valid criticism

When it comes to the comments section underneath your articles, it’s vital to retain perspective. A line from Rudyard Kipling’s somewhat hackneyed If… should give some sense of how best to react.

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

Basically, it pays to try and remain on an even keel. Sometimes people will laud your work and sometimes they will rip it to shreds. If you allow your emotions to hinge on which response you get, you are leaving yourself vulnerable.

Pay attention to what people say, but try and assess their words objectively, not emotionally. If you take every “Great article!” at face value, you will grow lazy, but that’s nothing compared to what will happen if you absorb every tirade.