I’m playing with the title of one of my previous posts here, because of course, there’s no ‘art’ to dealing with criticism as a writer, whether on or off Wattpad.
In fact, if anything, it often feels like some kind of masochistic kink, where you allow yourself to be handcuffed to your manuscript and whipped soundly on the backside with somebody else’s opinion of how shite they think your writing is. Unfortunately for us writers, there’s no safe word to be able to say ‘enough’ and most of our readers sadly don’t look like Jamie Dornan (and yes, that was a totally blatant excuse for me to add a JD gif into this post.)
If you’re a published writer, whether trad or self, the accepted norm is that you avoid Amazon reviews and never ever respond, even if some festering troll has decided to one-star you because ‘this is a paranormal romance, and I only like historial romance’ (pray tell then, Sandra, why in the bejeesuz did you download it in the first place?) In these cases, I’ve seen many an author ask their more devoted readers to mark these reviews as unhelpful to push it down the list, but unfortunately for those of us on Wattpad, the comments board is there for the taking, and SWEET MOSES, do some readers take it.
If you’re not familiar with how leaving feedback on Wattpad works, readers have the facility to leave comments not only at the end of each chapter, but to also ‘inline comment’ by highlighting a line or a paragraph and commenting on something they liked or disliked, something they found funny or profound, or to just randomly tell you that that their second-cousin-twice-removed has the same name as your main character (I kid you not).
Of course, this is a double-edged sword, as I mentioned in my previous post, because receiving feedback on your chapters – when it’s positive – is AMAZING. There’s nothing quite like uploading a chapter and waiting for those comments to appear. Being a bit of a stupid-o’clock updater, I would often upload a chapter at 2am, go to bed and then wake up five hours later, feeling exhausted and a bit grotty, only to be lifted by the lovely comments readers had left for me overnight. There’s no doubt it definitely jump starts your week with a healthy dose of positivity that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and you spend your commute to work actually smiling at people, as opposed to flipping them the finger and biting the ears off anyone who dares to venture into your personal space.
However, when the comments on the board are not quite so positive, what’s a writer to do? How do we deal with it?
The problem with sending anything out into the world for public consumption, is that you are ALWAYS going to come up against someone who either doesn’t like your art and won’t be afraid to tell you (whether constructively or not) or someone who is just there to piss on your bonfire because they can. It’s inevitable, I’m afraid, and no, it’s not pleasant or pretty, and in many cases, if you haven’t had years to harden your skin into some kind of thick Armadillo shell impenetrable to even the most determined of trolls, it’s going to hurt like a bitch. Writing is a hard enough endeavour as it is. We toil over our art. We fret that it’s not good enough and have a difficult job convincing ourselves that we can tell a story. Sending it out into the big wide world is a HUGE step (and one we should never dismiss as anything but brave AF), so to have to then face the kind of comments readers can hurl at you on Wattpad can have even the most confident of writers scuttling back into their hermit caves. Ask most writers you know about the reviews and feedback they’ve received and they’ll tell you that out of a hundred positive comments, it’ll be the one negative one they remember the most.
I will never forget the first ever negative comment I received on Wattpad. I’d been riding the waves of a sea of positivity (and luck, apparently) and when that first negative feedback came, it hit me like a sledgehammer. I cried. I’m not even ashamed to admit that either. I cried some more. I went into a dark hole for about three days and made all sorts of declarations to myself about how terrible my writing was and how I was stupid to think anyone would ever like it. I thought about deleting my stories. I wanted to rage at the person who’d left the comment, of course, but also didn’t want to come across as bitter and unable to accept criticism, no matter how that feedback had been relayed. So, instead, I festered on it for a few days, avoided Wattpad, and when I finally returned to the battle arena, I found I’d received some more positive comments and suddenly, I realised I could live to write another day. The feeling of receiving that comment never left me though, but, I like to think, the experience of that criticism actually helped me to work out how to handle future criticism and negative feedback.
Six years down the line and I’m still subject to the uglier side of Wattpad, ranging from readers who’ll hate on a character and diss them at every opportunity, to the odd troll here and there, who’ll pop up in the delightful way they do to tell you that your story is a huge pile of horse shite. On Wattpad, its par for the course, and it’s important to realise that 1) it’s inevitable and you need to prepare for that and, accept it, 2) there ARE ways to deal with it, that don’t involve forming pitchfork-wielding lynch mobs of your faithful readers and 3) it does NOT have to crush your writer-soul.
So, how do we deal with the comments that don’t tell us how wonderful we are? How do we deal with the ones that make us want to crawl into a dark hole and never come out again?
- FIND THE POSITIVE IN THE NEGATIVE – now, this might seem like a hippy motto, so forgive me if I suddenly sound like I’ve found my zen and am about to start chanting, but surprisingly, finding some positives out of negative criticism CAN work. The key here is to not be too precious about your work and to be able to step away from it and look at it from a different perspective. If one person tells you that your main character is annoying AF and they want to slap her silly, sure, maybe it’s that person’s personal gripe, but if twenty readers tell you the same, maybe they have a point? Too often I’ve received a comment that I didn’t like, and have been tempted to respond in haste, only to step away for a day or two and realise that maybe – just maybe – that reader might have picked up on something I need to work on. Sometimes it is possible to utilise the comments you receive to help improve your writing, whether that be character development, plot holes or genuine mistakes that you’d never spot even if you read your MS a hundred times. I mean, okay, not every reader is going to put this across to you in a way that seems constructive or even pleasant, but it IS possible to turn a negative into a positive.
- DON’T BE SO QUICK TO HURL A READER INTO THE BOG OF ETERNAL STENCH – this for me, is a toughie. I’m a redhead. I have a short fuse. I can be quick to react. However, hurling a tirade back at a reader who has left negative feedback isn’t always the best way to respond, and despite what you might think, it isn’t always going to make you feel better. By all means, channel your inner Maximus and swear that you will have your revenge in this life or the next, but be wary about wading into the comments to tell the reader exactly what you think of them and their opinions. One, as I mentioned above, it can reflect badly on you and make it appear as if you can’t handle criticism (some people won’t care whether they’ve worded it in a constructive way or not, they’ll just see you as a bitter writer who can’t cope with any form of critique), and it can also inflame your loyal readers who’ll be quick to defend you. No one wants a war of words on their comments board. These things can escalate quickly and turn into something nastier than the bog of eternal stench. Maybe there’s a better way to respond? Never respond in haste. Step away first and think about the best way to deal with a comment that you don’t like. You might have to grit your teeth while being diplomatic, but choose your battles wisely.
- AGREE TO DISAGREE – again, I know, it’s a bit hippy-bullshit, but this, I had found is KEY to having a more harmonious time on Wattpad. I learned very early on that it’s important to remember that not every Wattpadder is like you. We aren’t all from the same country, we don’t all speak the same language, we’re from different cultures and religions, we’re not all from the same age group and we haven’t all had the same upbringing. We have different opinions and different outlooks on life. You can’t possibly expect every reader to think like you do and you can’t expect them to interpret a story in the same way you intended it. They’re not in your head. They cannot see the same images you see or understand a character’s motivation in the way you devised it. There’s a chance they’ll see things differently to you, or have a differing opinion about a certain character, but sometimes it’s better to embrace their opinions and say ‘okay, I don’t agree but you know what? It’s okay you don’t feel the same way.’ You can’t bulldoze a reader into thinking the same as you do, nor can you bulldoze them into liking your work. As long as they’re not being abusive or offensive in expressing their opinions, accept your differing points of view, agree to disagree and move on. Life’s too short, right?
- DELETE! – okay, here’s something some people might disagree with me on. I was advised once that I should never delete comments, but there are some situations where deleting comments on Wattpad is a necessity. If you happen to be party to the attention of a troll who is just there to be abusive, I would say 100% delete their comments (and mute and report them). No good can ever come from keeping them up there. They want your attention. They want you to express your hurt and anger. Instead, I say, just delete their comment like they don’t exist. Being rendered invisible is the last thing they want and the absolute best thing you can do. I do also delete some comments where a thread of negativity has ensued eg. one reader comments in a really negative way, only to prompt the next reader to check the inline comment and reiterate, and so on and so on. Now, I know some people are going to disagree with me on this, but I think it’s important to judge each situation differently and if, a thread of comments is making me feel terrible (eg. dark hole territory, wanting to delete stories, give up completely and throw myself into the abyss), then for my own mental health and well-being, I WILL delete the original comment. It’s important to protect yourself and your writer soul, and sometimes, when one negative comment balloons into something that damages you, it’s better to rid yourself of it. Of course, I would only advise this in particular circumstances and only you can judge when that might be, but don’t feel like you can’t delete, or let anyone tell you that you can’t. What’s acceptable for one person, doesn’t have to be acceptable to you. One size does NOT fit all, people.
One thing I’ve found from my time on Wattpad, and I mentioned it earlier in the post, is that the lesson of learning to deal with the negatives, as well as the positives, is actually a very valuable one and also one that I am strangely grateful for. No one in life is here to blow smoke up your arse and constantly tell you how amazing you are. No one owes you positive feedback. Learning to accept that, at some point, someone out there is not going to like your work and is going to tell you, is vital to being a writer, not only on Wattpad, but off-site too. If you want to build a career in writing (or any career for that matter, because this applies in all aspects of life), you have to learn to cope with the negatives, and yes, you even have to cope with Sandra-Authorslayer-from-Birmingham telling you that she’s only giving you one measly star because you didn’t write an historical romance and I only like historical romance, ‘kaaaaay? If you can learn to cope with it on Wattpad, before you make that jump out into the wider book community, then trust me, you’re doing something right and well on your way to hardening your skin like an Armadillo.
REMEMBER: Negative feedback does NOT have to crush your soul, and more importantly, you should never allow it to.
And, if all else fails, you can always sell your writer-soul to the Devil in a cemetery on All Hallow’s Eve, in return for the old horned one to curse your haters with genital boils or a plague of locusts…