When I started working professionally as a writer, just over four years ago, I was elated. I finally found myself in a place where I could pursue what I love to do, and as a job no less. It didn’t take long, however, to see the downside of such a public career path: the amount of unbridled criticism and cruelty you are exposed to.
My first experience with this came after my essay on infertility was published, there was a huge backlash of cruel criticism and aggressive attacks directed at me. I was stunned. It was the last thing I expected. I didn’t know what to do.
People judged me, called me selfish, called me stupid, berated me, insulted me, and shredded my piece. This was an essay I poured my heart into. I struggled against every instinct to censor my story because of how vulnerable it made me feel. In the end, though, I published every last embarrassing detail. And I paid for it. But I stood firm because it was my story. And if even one couple felt less alone after reading it, all the criticism in the world was worth it.
I understand that people expressing opposing viewpoints are part of the job. I don’t have a problem with respectful and constructive criticism, it helps me learn. But that’s not the kind of feedback I’m getting. And over time, as I face more destructive aggression over my work, I begin to wonder whether or not what I write actually helps anyone. I’ve been called an ignorant bitch, a feminazi, a libtard, a moron, human garbage, a piece of shit, a cunt . . . I could go on, but I don’t want to.
Putting myself out there for public scrutiny is not something that comes naturally or easily to me. And there are times I cry. There are times I question everything and wonder why I keep doing this to myself. Why I keep granting strangers access to the most intimate parts of my life, my perspectives and experiences if they just want to use that vulnerability to attack me? My ability to convince myself to “shake it off” and keep writing has become less and less powerful with each cruel insult.
Being a writer (or any artist for that matter) is a paradox. In order to do your craft well, it needs to come from a place of vulnerability. If you truly want to reach your audience and elicit a genuine response from them, you need to put yourself into everything you do. In contrast, you also need to find a way to close yourself off from the pointless criticisms you are exposed. It becomes a necessary form of self-preservation. But this puts you at risk of not being able to be vulnerable in your work.
In my experience, and as many of my artist friends can attest, the negative feedback we receive about our work far outweighs the positive. And when you are constantly bombarded by cruelty and aggression, over time, it can bully you into silence. We cannot let our world become overrun by bullies.
So, I ask you this: the next time you read a piece of writing that moves you, tell the writer. The next time you view a painting that fills you with emotions, tell the painter. The next time you view a piece of photography that makes you question your preconceptions, tell the photographer. The next time you hear a piece of music that helps you make sense of the world, tell the musician.
Please, I am begging you, take the time to give positive feedback. I do not want to live in a world where artists won’t share their work because they can’t manage the negativity anymore. We need artists now more than ever. We need people to create beautiful things, to share their uncensored experiences, to help us see the world for what it really is, to shatter stereotypes, bigotry, and racism. They need you, I need you. And we all need artists.