We've all been there. Staring at the screen in disgust. Unable to contain our frustration at the stupidity before us. But unable to look away, thanks to a sadistic need to feel the pinch of each badly-phrased sentence and illogical thought process and THEY SAID WHAAAAAAAAAT!?
Comments sections: assume the position.
With few exceptions, comments sections are awful. Whatever heights the blog post, article or review may have reached above, what lurks beneath is a dank dungeon of humanity and shit grammar. A place of fear and trolling, where terrible word-worms burrow into your eyeholes and cannot be extracted. Much like mosquitos, 'light' beer, and non-Scottish men wearing kilts to weddings that aren't even in Scotland, the comments section serves no useful purpose in life. Or... does it? "I've got a lock. I'm going in." "Negative, Red Five. Do not engage. I repeat, DO NOT ENGAGE!" "AGH. I've been hit. It... came... from... behi-" *BOOM* Before I had any articles published, a journalist friend told me to never, ever engage with the enemy in the comment trenches. No matter what is said, don't say a word in response. You can't make it better. In fact, it will only ever get worse. And initially I paid heed to this advice. Until one day... I didn't. You see, he didn't tell me I couldn't look. So often, whenever I had anything published, I paid a brief visit 'down below'. Usually nothing was being said. But just when I thought I was safe, the most batshit insane, trollworthy comments would appear. And, despite myself, I would sit and stew for hours. But even worse was when one thing led to another and I responded. Probably to clarify something. Trying to be funny, but put them in their place. Whatever. There was really no point. Cut down one ridiculous remark and others spring up in its place. Because comments sections are a vicious hydra of stupidity. Let go, Luke Thankfully I DID learn. Eventually. One morning I had a very personal (animal welfare, always) article out there and spotted a commenter who had missed the point entirely. Unfortunately, while I was busy trying to formulate the perfect response, my eldest child started being a little difficult. To which I got cranky. To which he cried. To which I felt awful, switched off the damn computer and begged forgiveness with a biscuit, lots of hugs and an episode of Grandpa in my Pocket. I mentioned the bad-father guilt that followed to my dear mother. And, being brilliant and wise, she stated that I needed to let these things go. That sometimes it was best to let the article simply stand by itself and let the comments underneath reflect the intelligence (or lack thereof) of the commentators. So I did. And she was right. Now when I write something, I don't feel obliged to get too engaged with what people think. I may dip into comments from time to time, but I find it easier to walk away from what I find down there if I don't feel like taking part. As a writer, this is a bloody brilliant skill to learn. Not only when you finally get published and actually have to deal with people commenting negatively on your work, but to reach that goal of publication and success in the first place. Writers write. So keep writing. Whatever they're writing, most writers don't get their first piece of work published. Most don't get their second published. Some true legends of writing don't get published until their sixth or seventh, if they're lucky. Which is crazy, and slightly depressing, but that's how this game works. Talent isn't everything. Luck isn't everything. Hard work isn't everything. There is a rare sweet spot between the three where the published writing treasure lies. So you HAVE TO KEEP MOVING FORWARD. I had long clung to the hope that my first book was 'the one' that will make it. After so many years writing and rewriting, it was kinda hard to let go of that obsession. So much that it has impacted my work on other things. This is where I needed that comments section training to kick in. Wax on. Wax off. If you're having the same trouble, go and find something to read online now. An article, a review of a film or book you love. A news story. Whatever. Chances are you can dive right into its comments section and bring your blood to boil within roughly 3-5 comments' worth of utter bollocks. (And you didn't even write the thing they're taking shots at.) Now... walk away. Close the browser. Go do something else.
You see, the trick is to learn to walk away without engaging no matter how much you want to. Yes, it's easier said than done when it's not your work, but the principle is the same. Let the writing speak for itself. Let the critique speak for those who make it. If this isn't the one that will get published, fine. Take a deep breath. Unclench. And give it up. But... Don't give up on the hope of success. Keep sending your work out into the ether to find a home. Never stop pursuing that goal. No, I mean move on emotionally. And, most importantly, literarily. Don't wait for feedback before you crack on with the next project. Stop staring at your emails wistfully, not able to concentrate because you're too busy dreaming of that offer of publication. No more IF ONLY this and WOULDN'T IT BE GREAT IF that. The same goes for published authors too. Should I read the latest review? What if it's crap? What if they didn't understand that bit that EVERYBODY else gets and WHY DON'T THEY UNDERSTAND IT OH GOD I SHOULD SEND THEM AN EMAIL TO EXPLAIN- No. I don't care who you are. Or how you move on. Just move on. Enjoy a rebound fling with a short story or blog post. Or commit to a new relationship with a screenplay, comic or novel. But let the 'finished' piece go. Snip the string and watch it float away. Don't obsess over people's reactions to it. That's their job now. Your job is to move the hell on with the next part of your day. To write something new. Chances are, if you hone those comments section muscles, you'll feel a whole lot better about your writing. Not only that, but your empty writing projects folder will thank you.
[First published Tuesday 23 September 2014]