The first story I ever wrote was called "A Little Elf." I told it to my mom, who used to write down the funny stuff I said and the stories I'd tell. All of my early wisdom is in a spiral notebook in a box somewhere, getting ready for the highest bidder when I become super rich and famous. I'm kidding. Maybe.
I wrote sporadically through childhood and early adulthood: Short stories, angsty poetry, stuff like that. In high school, I wrote a series of "alternate ending" love stories about how a famous rock star ended up with various heroines loosely resembling me. And no, I'm not gonna spill the beans about which famous rock star, because I'm happily married and it would be just awkward if he came knockin'. Which he totally would if he read my stuff and knew I pined for him when I was 16. Ahem.
I started blogging in 2011 as a way to chronicle our adoption story and continued it because it was cathartic as I struggled with depression. I kept writing because... well, because I like it. It grounds me. I have stuff to say.
But here's the thing: Putting your story out there on the Internet makes you vulnerable.
I've heard a lot of bloggers complain about "Internet Trolls," which usually elicited a giant eye roll from me. Is giant eye rolling a skill? I'm working on my LinkedIn profile and I'm thinking there would be a crap ton of people who'd indorse me as an expert eye roller.
According to Wikipedia, an Internet troll is "slang for someone who sows discord on the internet by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting inflammatory, extraneous or off-topic messages in an online community."
Anyhoo... I always thought these complaints about "trolls" were too sensitive. If you're gonna put yourself out there, you need to be secure with yourself and be able to shake it off if a reader disagrees with your stance on potty training, organic foods, Fifty Shades... or whatever. Crying because someone disagrees with what you wrote? Please. Put your big girl panties on and suck it up, buttercup. If you get upset every time someone doesn't love what you write, you're weak and you probably just stay off the Internet. Right?
Maybe I was a little harsh.
In the past month, I've started to get more eyes on my writing by having my work syndicated on larger sites: The Huffington Post, Washington Post, Babble. I'm grateful these sites have published my words and I've gained some new readers. Maybe that's you.
But not everyone is nice. I consider myself to be fairly thick-skinned. I've been around a minute. I am not easily shocked or offended and it's pretty hard to hurt my feelings. Right?
Maybe not. Some of the comments on my recent writing and some of the emails I've received have been... well, mean.
I don't write controversial or inflammatory stuff. I write about adoption, motherhood and midlife and how those entities collide. Sometimes I write about random stuff with the hope that I'm funny. I steer away from anything hot button. I don't whine or preach.
I wrote about Costco. I got emails bashing me for not supporting small businesses. Really? On the upside, I also got a selfie of some dude while he was shopping which was a little weird, but hey, it's all good. Someone sent me a picture of their new Costco membership forms. I swear they didn't pay me to write that stuff. I just really love Costco... it's the hot dogs.
I wrote about parenting clichés. I got called a bitter, friendless bitch. Ouch. I wrote about urban slang. I got an email calling me a racist and a shitty writer. How for the love of Mike could someone get racist from making fun of "totes adorbs?" I have no clue. And the shitty writer part? Clearly, that chick had zero taste. Ahem.
I wrote about over-40 parenting. I got called selfish because I'd "die and leave my kids orphans." I got comments from twenty-somethings detailing how I'd embarrass my kids with my advanced age. I didn't burst any bubbles... they'll figure out all parents embarrass their kids about something. It's part of why we have kids, right?
My writing is all pretty personal... and while I'm mature enough to realize I'm not everyone's cup of tea, some of these comments and emails people took the time to send... well, they hurt my feelings. There, I said it.
I talked to a more seasoned writer friend of mine. She told me, "the first rule of fight club is never to read the comments." OK, she might not have actually said fight club.
I like reading comments. I like to absorb what people thought or felt when they read my writing, positive or not. But, there's a difference between disagreeing with my position or my lifestyle than leaving a mean-spirited, unproductive comment.
People have free will. I know that by giving the Internet a window into my life, I'm opening myself up to scrutiny. My litmus test for writing is whether my mom or my pastor would be freaked out by what I write... and I'm pretty sure they've both heard every colorful word I've thrown out there.
If you're a blogger or a writer, keep hitching up those big girl panties and keep smiling. The Internet isn't always a welcoming place to be and you've gotta find your own mojo to deal with it. Stay classy.
Most of the time, I write for my own sanity. Most of the time the good outweighs the bad. Sometimes, the trolls just go with the territory. Oh, and if you're a troll? Not much I can say other than move on and find the underside of a bridge and try to scare some goats... I've got nothing for you.