Last night, my husband and I stood waiting and chatting in Penn Station after a reading of one of his new plays. He got a lot of fantastic feedback- compliments as well as excellent constructive criticism. Eventually, the conversation turned toward my very odd experience on Monday with a trolling blog commenter. What could have been a constructive note, was expressed as a nasty, personal (and may I say, poorly written) attack on my motives for blogging.
There is no doubt that I have given this woman way too much of my energy and time. But since this was my first –and I am sure not my last– experience with this type of negativity, I have been analyzing my reaction to the whole experience.
Anyway, I told Ben that I have never particularly received constructive criticism about my blog–the way you would with a play. I have received tons of wonderful constructive compliments over the years (which is one of the major driving forces of my writing, please don’t get me wrong) but as far as “you can do this better”– not all that much. Ben had a great point though. He said, “But is there an exact way to blog? What type of advice would you even get?”
And that’s when I realized why the troller got so deeply under my skin. She was insulting a particularly vague form of writing. There are many reasons why people write, I think we learned about this in middle school:
- To teach or inform
- To call people to action
- To inspire or create a community/connection
- And others I didn’t catch because I was watching a bird fly by the classroom window
My point is that quite often, blogging in particular is about telling your story in order to invite a community to share your experience. If not, you would just write it all in a journal. Now, things get tricky when the writer hopes or expects a certain reaction, OR, in this recent case, the reader misinterprets the writer’s intentions. This, I believe at least, is why we often get the, “Who cares?” or, “Why is this even published?” trolling comments on so many places online. The confused reader believes each article is written for them personally, and forgets that they may not be the community included in the target audience.
As a writer, do I hope to reach people outside my assumed audience? Of course! But I never expect it. I am certain I have friends and family members that are probably not super into emotional posts about hiking and acting. That doesn’t insult me. But they wouldn’t go out of their way to tell me my work is not up their alley, because they realize that there are plenty of things online not written for them.
But I still haven’t answered the question: why do we blog? Or rather, why do I blog? When I began in 2010, I wanted to simply talk about living in NYC as a broke actor. Nothing more. I was amazed that anyone read it. It was an exercise in building my confidence. As the years went on, people began to tell me they related with some of my stories, and that meant more to me than the world. And so my writing evolved into something more than an occasional hobby. It became a way to connect with other artists.
The tricky part is that when you branch off of your personal blog and share your ideas with a larger audience, your purpose slightly changes depending on each site. Having my posts suddenly featured around the internet was mind-boggling. I didn’t realize I could reach an audience that large so quickly, even if, in the scheme of the internet, it isn’t super impressive. To me, it was very exciting. So I’ve been hopping on every idea that comes to mind, and it’s been wonderful for my creativity all around.
The issue is that you remove your blogging context. An article about why I blog makes more sense on Maybe There Will Be Cupcakes amidst my other writing throughout this site. This is not really a standalone article. Whether you’re a personal friend of mine or are brand new to the site, you are surrounded by context about my life and general vibe. On someone else’s site, that disappears. I can understand how that can be confusing to a reader that assumes all articles are geared toward them.
I believe my point is this- as bloggers, I don’t feel we need to change our purpose for writing while branching out into the internet. If our article is accepted, it meant that the editors felt it had a place within their brand. However, we need to remember that negative comments may be due to a reader’s inability to connect the person to the message. Without context (or knowing the writer personally) a reader may project their own tone of voice on your writing, and then madness ensues. This is not to excuse it, but just to provide a possible explanation.
As a reader, we all need to remind ourselves that a human being, with a different personality than our own, has written this article. It is outside of their zone, and therefore, we cannot assume who they are as people. We can only read the story or the message. Yes, it is a public forum, and the writer is opening a door to opinions by submitting the article, but this does not mean we are welcome to project our personal issues onto the writer. The writer doesn’t know you, and if you scream at them, they probably won’t be all that excited to remedy that.
So as both parties, before commenting (or responding to a comment), I encourage everyone to think, “What is the purpose of this writing?” Is it really to tell me how I have to live my life? Does this harm anyone? If so, or if you have something constructive to add to the topic itself, then by all means comment, that’s the point of putting these articles online opposed to in a magazine. But if it doesn’t, spend your energy considering the other person’s point of view, or read something you enjoy somewhere else on the internet.
We’ll never be able to stop trolls who troll for the sake of trolling, but we can step back when our emotions take hold, and try to see the bigger picture.