This week I turn twenty-seven. As we have now entered my birthday month, I am entitled to do what I want and say what I want and build my own soapbox to stand on. Those are the rules of birthday months.
Last week out of one part boredom and one part shameless curiosity, I searched my name on Google. The usual sites came up: this blog and other places online featuring my writing. Then I came across a stranger’s blog that had an entire post about a short story I wrote and how much this person loved it. It was one of those rare beautiful moments that happen in a writer’s life, when you discover someone appreciates your writing and talks it up not because they are a friend or family member who is invested in you as a person, but because they have a genuine interest in the work. I was so elated by this discovery that I sent the link to my father and beamed for a while after.
Then the universe balanced itself and I found another blog with an entire post dedicated to an article I wrote about transitioning to writing young adult fiction from literary fiction. The author of the post made me out to be some condescending literary snob trying out a type of writing that was beneath me. I immediately wanted to write a defense in the comments section of this person’s blog. “Stop being mean to me!” “You don’t know me!” “A lot of background information was cut from the article for word count.” I wanted to explain myself to someone I don’t know, to tell her that she misread me. I wasn’t talking down to people who read YA; I was explaining my personal journey from writing short stories to writing YA. But then I realized that after this person there would simply be another who had something against me, and so on through Twitter, personal blogs, and anywhere else online where people air out their grievances.
When I thought beyond this, entering into that hopeful place where I imagine myself with a book deal and more people reading my work, I realized that with more success, there will only be more backlash. The internet is a breeding ground for criticism, blind hatefulness, and trolling. If I try to defend myself against one person, I’ll have to defend myself against them all, and this is an exhausting task that takes away from what I really want to do, which is simply to write.
So here I am, on the cusp of twenty-seven and attempting to navigate what it means for me to be an adult and a “working writer,” and I am faced with this obstacle of accepting criticism and moving past it. I can’t force people to like me or my writing. But there is one thing I can do, that I can make as a promise to myself as I enter another year of my life. Just because I have the opportunity to say mean things about people online, doesn’t mean I will take advantage of it. What you say online doesn’t go away. Good or bad, your words are archived forever. I would rather be remembered for my stories than for what message I left on someone’s comments section.
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