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Kerri Sackville: Facing the fear of feedback, criticism, & abuse as a female writer

I've known Australian writer Kerri Sackville for many years now, albeit in a virtual way. I enjoyed her writing way back when she was a blogger turned author, and have continued to enjoy the wry, wonderful words she sends out into the ether ever since. Now a regular commentator on Australia's Sunrise breakfast show, and writer at the Daily Life, she's more in the spotlight than ever. Which means dealing with even more of that little thing we all hate called 'criticism' - or, if you're a woman in public with an opinion, probably more like abuse - with as much poise and grace as you can muster.

I've always held Kerri up as a master of this art. So when I wanted to find out how a writer (especially female writers) should tackle this part of the job, I went straight to her. And she was generous enough to provide a little insight into how she deals with it.

Kerri Sackville, Author, Columnist, Social Commentator

Can you remember the first piece of negative feedback you received based not necessarily on your writing, but just having written something? How did you react and is there any advice you'd give to new writers in the same situation?

My first ever negative feedback was years ago when I was writing for Mamamia. I'd already had a lot published in print media by then, but had never received a negative comment. And I'd been blogging for a while and only received praise. But I published a piece on MM that had actually appeared on my blog and been really well received... and some commenters just hated it. Hated it. And they told me so. I remember being shocked, more than anything else. It was a light, funny piece about dating one's spouse. I couldn't believe people could take offence. I have since learned that people can take offence to anything.

Comments sections have great potential for intelligent discussion but are often the Worst Places Ever - especially for writers who dare to have opinions. Are you an advocate for rolling up your sleeves and getting your typing fingers dirty by responding, or do you steer well clear?

I always engage on my own FB page. People who comment there are generally respectful, and, more importantly, they are not anonymous. If they are not respectful, I can block them. But I never, ever, engage on website comments threads. For a start, most commenters are anonymous, and anonymity gives people license to be revolting. Secondly, I'll never change their minds. It will just depress me. So I ignore comments sections. It's like they don't exist. [Kerri expands on this in her blog post "A Comment on Comments" from earlier this year.]

Have you ever wanted to write a about a topic but backed off because of the negative reaction you'll know it'll provoke?

Never. I've written about a lot of controversial things. If I know it's a controversial topic I will check in with myself to make sure I know my stuff and that I'm sure about what I'm saying. I try to anticipate the arguments and accommodate my responses into the body of the piece. After that, I hit publish or send it to the editor and let it go.

Your rise from blogger to author to columnist to TV personality has been swift and successful! How have you dealt with the transition from a traditionally more quiet and introverted writing career to being in the full glare of the public spotlight and the negativity that undoubtedly follows - especially for women in the media?

I don't think I'm a TV personality at all! I do have a public profile.... the biggest challenge for me is in meeting new people and having them google me, which makes it very hard to start on an even footing. Other than that.... honestly, I feel so grateful to be doing what I'm doing that I really can't complain about the challenges involved. The upside - being able to write professionally - is just still too thrilling for me.

Following a story in Australia not so long ago about online abuse directed at a female journalist, you set up a campaign #EndViolenceAgainstWomen which involved a secret FB group that tweeted out the names of trolls with screenshots of their abuse. Why do you think women especially get such vitriol directed at them? And what would you say to any and all aspiring female writers who might be capable of publishing amazing things but are too scared by the potential response?

We get vitriol directed at us because of sexism, pure and simple. When a man expresses an opinion others don't like people generally debate the opinion. When a woman expresses an opinion others don't like she gets personally attacked, and called names. There are exceptions, of course, but this is the general rule. But I don't think trolling is anything to be frightened of. I had a huge amount during that online campaign. I blocked and deleted, and I blocked and deleted, and those trolls just ceased to exist for me. You don't have to engage with them. You don't have to acknowledge them. An anonymous troll behind a keyboard should never stop anyone from publishing their work. That would be a terrible shame.


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