Responding To a Public Attack Against Your Writing

If you’ve used the internet much, particularly if you’ve read or posted on blogs, then you’ve probably witnessed (or even been involved in) the proverbial internet pissing contest. It can be tough to avoid. Inevitably, no matter what you write or who you are, there is someone out there that just doesn’t like you or your opinion. The reason might not be obvious. Maybe the person is jealous. Maybe you struck a nerve with something you wrote or did. Or maybe he or she simply likes stirring the pot. Whatever the situation, it’s important to know how to handle these trolls and public attackers.

Many writers I know have been publicly attacked, often for little or no reason. Recently, a man I’d never heard of before attacked my writing and the quality of my literary magazine. This was not the first attack I had received, but it was the first one delivered in a public venue. In the comments of a guest blog I wrote a couple months ago, a comment section that had previously been filled with positive feedback, this man called me a hypocrite, referred to my writing and my lit mag as sloppy, and suggested that I had failed third grade English. I knew instantly what I wanted to say in response, but I also knew that such a response could cause nothing but trouble. Instead, I crafted a response that I thought was in good taste. He responded, ruder than before. Then I delivered the death blow that silenced him (at least for the moment). Although I know nothing about the guy (and have found nothing to like about him), I do want to thank him for providing me with the inspiration behind this post.

If you are a writer, then your words are constantly displayed for the public to see. Any public exposure will result in some negative response. We all know that everyone’s a critic, and we all know that someone always has to rain on the parade. Yes, I am using clichés (deal with it, Mr. Internet Writer Hater). Sometimes they are called for. As one of my writerly friends told me, it’s important to know what you are reading and who the audience is. We don’t have to treat everything like it’s Nobel literature.

So what do you do when someone publicly attacks you or your writing? Here is my six-step guide.

Step 1: Do Your Research

Before you respond at all, find out what you can about the attacker. If he or she is a writer, then read something the attacker has written. Read other comments this person has posted elsewhere. Don’t spend hours digging up dirt. The point is simply to know who you are dealing with. Is the person a troll who only posts hateful messages? Is the person someone who might have a vendetta against you because of some past wrongdoing? Is the person someone highly respected in the literary world? You don’t need to know the person’s life story, but you should know what you are getting into before you respond. You don’t want to word battle with a Pulitzer Prize winner (not that such a person would be likely to post hateful comments about you).

Step 2: Ignore It, If You can

We have to be able to accept criticism. If someone doesn’t like what we write for a legitimate reason, then we should accept that and move on. If someone feels the need to point out a typo, then let it go. What argument can you win against such a person? However, if you feel like you need to stand up for what you’ve written, then move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Don’t Be Overly Defensive

When you do craft your response, don’t be super defensive about the issue in question. Instead, try to direct the conversation into the positives. Remember, you don’t want the comments to take away from what you’ve written. You don’t want people to know your name because of an internet feud. Use your comments to get the conversation back on track. This doesn’t mean that you can’t stand up for yourself. Just don’t overdo it.

Step 4: Don’t Be an Attacker

It’s very tempting when someone criticizes us to want to provide criticism in return. But before you start pouncing on what that person has written or said, think about whether or not you want to engage in a mud-slinging campaign. Instead of attacking, thank the person for his or her feedback. After all, this is someone who took the time to read something of yours. See if you can push the attacker into providing feedback that is more useful instead of just spewing hatred.

Step 5: Call On Your Friends

What do you do in times of trouble? Turn to someone else. If your internet attacker persists, then ask for support. Your friends will stand up for you. There’s a good chance that your army of friends will pretty quickly quell his attack. After all, many of these attackers probably don’t have much of a friend base. If they did, they would probably find better things to do with their time.

Step 6: Walk Away

Once your friends have offered their helping hand, there really isn’t anything else you can (or should) do. Know when to walk away from the battle. In most cases, the attacker isn’t going to ruin your name. If you walk away, then he or she will probably grow bored with the shenanigans as well. Remember, you only have so much time in a day. How much do you want to spend fighting someone you don’t know?

No matter what you choose to do when faced with an internet attacker, make sure you think about it before acting. One attacker isn’t going to ruin your name or your career. But the wrong approach from you can do a lot of damage to your reputation.


4 thoughts on “Responding To a Public Attack Against Your Writing

  1. I’m so sorry that you had to deal with that, Nate. I did go through something quite similar and was harassed and realized the best answer for me was complete withdrawal and no energy. I knew this person wanted to engage and the best thing for that was to give nothing and they had nothing to fuel their shit on. Thanks for your blog!

  2. A friend of mine passed along your blog to me.

    I work in the field of agriculture biotechnology or genetically modified organisms. I get these attacks as much as you may imagine. My approach is to present the personal side of me and provide factual information as a response. Always be nice and respectful. This usually results in other people coming to your defense and makes the attack look like a jerk (I’m being polite in this choice or words).

  3. I once worked as a consultant with a p.r. boutique with top-level clients. Often, they’d want to respond to adverse criticism from jerks writing Letters to the Editor. We always advised them to
    ignore the letters. The more you respond, the more the jerks gather steam . . . and you help remind the readers of the original criticism.
    My advice: if you have to write, then write the meanest letter you can think of. Print it out. Burn it. Zap it from your computer.
    Better yet, start another story. Maybe one about a letter-wrting jerk who inadvertently picks on Zeus and gets a fork of light’ning through his pickle.
    Be assured that you write so well you deserve to ignore the Idiots of Life.

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