“Congratulations” is not the word I expected to hear when I reached out to tell people about my first real hater. A hater is someone negative or overly critical, or someone who dramatically dislikes a specified person or thing, so why would anyone think this is a good thing?
I write stuff on the internet, so I knew this was bound to come with criticism from editors of publications and other people’s opinions. I wasn’t as prepared for those opinions and critiques as I thought I was when I started this journey, but I got better at accepting constructive feedback because its purpose was to make me better.
I tend to be a perfectionist, so while I initially got angry that people were pointing out errors, I eventually realized that if I was going to do this, I should do it well. Those people are not haters (even though in my early days I thought they were).
I had my first experience with a real hater the other day, and while I was proud of myself for not sobbing, or yelling, her words made me insecure and anxious. The piece in question, I Wish I had Been Abandoned as a Baby, was initially going to be my attempt at seeing the events of my childhood through my mother’s eyes. It ended up being a blend of that, sprinkled with some wishful thinking, and a stroll through the land of “what ifs.” My first hater despised my work as evidenced by her comment’s first few words (you can see her whole judgment in the response section if you click the link to the story):
Is there a blog called Cringeworthy? If so, your words belong there, not here. You may not have had a perfect childhood, but trust me, who is older and hopefully wiser, it could have been worse. Far worse.
The rest of it, which was exceptionally long, called me names like “selfish.” It became clear reading through her response that she is also a victim of childhood trauma. I think she didn’t read my whole story or understand the nuance. But her words stung and opened wounds that I am always trying to keep sutured shut.
You see, I know it could have been worse. I talked myself out of committing suicide many times as a teenager, by telling myself it could have been worse. I spent decades dealing with my trauma by ignoring it. Constantly reminding myself that others have experienced far worse things, I justified mental and physical abuse because I was no longer starving and living off bread and mustard sandwiches.
Every time I write down parts of my story and someone responds with how, “I am an inspiration,” or they are “sorry for everything I have been through,” I feel guilty. Like I am some kind of traitor. Liable, because the fact that there are people who have had worse trauma and continued down a dangerous path is my fault.
Or more like because I didn’t turn out like that, my ordeal must not have been as terrible. It has taken over a year of therapy to learn to accept my trauma for what it is. And this woman’s word of vitriol and hate nearly sent me into a tailspin. I reached out for help from mentors and other writers instead and was told multiple times, “Congratulations!”
It is new, not true
When I told Jeff Moore, CEO of Everyday Power, that her words had hit a nerve. He told me, “It stings because it is new, not because it is true.” He followed that up with, “We think we want more fans, but what we need is more haters! Congrats!” I started thinking about the truth behind his words.
The first time I had gotten feedback from an editor who was going to pass on my story, I cried and was ready to quit writing because I was terrible. I didn’t, though, because trauma taught me not to give up; instead, I learned more, and my skin got a little thicker.
Jeff pointed out that our first hater helps us to be a little stronger and learn that hateful comments have more to do with them than they do with us, pointing out that my recent hater had taught me to hit the delete button faster. There is a difference between feedback aimed at helping you grow and useless anger.
Besides gaining a thicker skin, there are a few other reasons to accept congratulations on achieving your first hater. Having a hater can challenge you to work even harder.
Instead of viewing this lady as a bad thing, I had the opportunity to realize two things: do not take things personally, and any press is good press. I channeled her negative energy into an opportunity to learn something and work harder at reaching my goals.
Do not take anything personally
According to Don Miguel Ruiz, and his book The Four Agreements:
“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one you live in.”
My work resonated so much with her that she reacted from a deep emotional place. Pushing people into a visceral response with nothing more than the words I chose to string together in a particular order is the mission behind my writing. Granted, this is not the response I expected, but that is not up to me. People are going to respond based on their reality and perceptions. Once I have written and shared it, I do not own it anymore.
Any press is good press
I made the most of her hateful comments and shared them in a Medium Facebook group, of which I am a member. I asked the group members what they would do if they received this kind of comment from someone. This post led to over a hundred views and several new followers, who went and read my story.
I also found out that the lady had shared her comment on her Facebook page because she felt so strongly that she was right. When you click the link she shared, it takes you to my story and my author profile page.
According to John Rampton, having haters means you are doing something right. In his article, Haters Gonna Hate, he states, “The emergence of haters is a signal that you have achieved a certain level of success. If you have not accomplished anything, then, almost certainly, nobody would be paying enough attention to give you criticism.” I try to find comfort in the fact that maybe he is right, and this is a necessary evil to being a successful writer.
Thank you to the haters
Thank you very much, Rachida, for directing traffic to my art that I poured my heart and soul into. Thank you for reacting to my words; however, they moved you. I did also learn from someone else who went and read it, that she was a little confused about how “the baby was making coffee.” Thanks for teaching me that I might need to be a bit more direct with the nuance, so the average reader doesn’t get confused.
I feel much better about this than I did last week. I don’t think I am ready to throw myself an “I have haters party,” but I can acknowledge that it is an excellent problem to have. My modern literary hero is Stephen King, and I would love to be like him when I grow up. I was reminded of a few things about Stephen King this week.
First, he used to nail all of his rejection letters to the wall, and he got so many at one point that the nail would no longer hold them to the wall, and he had to get a SPIKE. I might print out all the comments from haters and drive them into the wall with a spike someday…
Secondly, he has said, “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.” This quote stuck in my head when I thought about something else that Jeff told me. He told me that I wanted all the hate to trickle in now, so that: “When you are Stephen King, and The Times say you are amazing, and The Post says that you suck, you are good with it all!”
I could be afraid that people will say I suck. Or, I could keep putting in the work and hope that someday The Post will be talking about my book. Even if they say, it sucks. I will be so good with that, and that kind of hope is truly freeing. Tell us about how your first hater in the comments section below!