I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries these last few weeks, mostly about creative and powerful women. One thing stood out to me as being common to them all: They’re unperturbed by criticism.
This is something I’m fascinated by mostly because it’s something that has taken me a long time to master. I have thick skin when it comes to rejections and pushing forward with my projects, but until a few years ago, I wasn’t always so good with dealing with criticism and hate. I took it personally.
Watching successful people, especially women, deal with hateful comments that come their way has been fascinating for me. Because these women, they carry on regardless. Their work and their message is more important than their ego. That’s not to say they don’t feel bad about the negativity. They just don’t focus on it.
They focus their attention on what they want. They nurture what they want to grow and ignore the things they don’t.
I get dozens of emails from writers, especially female writers, who face quite a bit of abuse online. Women tend to get targeted online more than men do and we often get it in a different form.
In 2005, after my first website and my work became popular, I started getting rape and death threats. The Internet was still sufficiently new that I didn’t realize at the time that not only was this common but that it was a trend that would grow. Now, most women I know have been at the receiving end of this sort of aggression. At the time, however, I took it personally and worried that it signalled something about the way I presented myself online.
I know better now. I dismiss the nastiness without a thought or a reaction but I do still get sucked in by certain kinds of comments. The man who calls me a traitor for leaving India. The self-identified feminist who tells me I had success with freelancing because I was pretty and single. The English man who thinks making a career from India as a woman was far easier for me than it can ever be for him. The woman who tells me I wouldn’t have the same success without a supportive husband, even though, for the record, I was successful well before I even met said husband.
I choose not to respond to this silliness. I am learning to focus my energy and my attention on the things that I want to grow. Even though comments like this still get to me sometimes, I don’t bother defending myself or engaging with the people who make them. I don’t have time for arguments. I don’t have time for social media brawls. When I’m attacked online, I often won’t engage.
As writers, we choose to put our work and our opinions in the public eye and inevitably, there will sometimes be pushback as a result of that. Sometimes it’s legitimate. Oftentimes it’s nasty and personal.
Here’s the thing, though: I have limited time and I’d rather spend it interacting with readers who love my work and identify with it, not answering emails from people who will never put in the work to be successful. My philosophy is simple: If you don’t like what I have to say, leave. If you don’t like my writing, don’t read it. If you don’t agree with my worldview, don’t waste your time following me. Your life is precious and your time is limited. Spend it with someone you actually like spending it with.
As a writer, your job isn’t to convert anyone. Your job is to live your life and share your truth with people who may benefit from what you have to say. Let’s be straight here: Neither you nor I am about to change who we are because some Internet stranger who has nothing better to do disapproves.
I focus on living my life and do the work that I’m passionate about. The rest is just noise.
And if you’re a writer, especially a writer who wants to reach large audiences of people, I highly recommend that you do the same.