Ouch! Feedback Nasties

A message for my Mystery Feedback Meanie.
Choose your words carefully… Please…
Even though I tell myself to try to be immune to feedback – as a quote in the dedication to Sophie Hannah’s A Room Swept White goes: ‘Take nothing personally, even if it’s got your name on it.’ … however often I remind myself of that, I still find any negative feedback on my writing upsetting. But when it’s given on something written from the heart it’s physically painful.
Right now I feel as if I have been thumped in the chest with a cold iron bar. I am literally shaking. (Which is a shame because I’ve spent all day trying to overcome stress and thought I was winning)
A one star review on a poem on the Ether app has just wiped out the joy of a 5 star review I received minutes earlier for a short story. They didn’t like it. It’s a shame but I can cope with that. Everyone is entitled to give one star for something that doesn’t work for them.

But what did the most damage and hurt the most was the comment: “Childish”

And the reason it hurt was because I know different and I can’t tell that person.

This is what I want to tell that person:
I wrote that poem because I know how it feels to lose and to hurt. To hurt very, very badly. I know how it feels to desperately look for something that describes how you feel and not find it. I wrote it when in a deep state of grief after finding poem upon poem that I couldn’t connect with. So often I hear funeral poems that make me want to scream. I didn’t think it was a marvellous piece of creative writing, but it was as much from the guts as anything I have ever written and to be given a one-word review like that was, quite simply, unfair and rather nasty. I wasn’t trying to be clever I was deliberately being simple and honest. In fact I made a point of writing in the blurb for it that it is ‘simple.’ (I’ve just checked and the actual word I used was ‘uncomplicated’) It was also free so I’m not sure it was necessary to be that nasty.

I didn’t learn to write poetry at school. I wasn’t taught to appreciate poetry. In fact, I spent nearly forty years being scared of poetry. Poets were part of some special elitist club for snooty poetry brains. Thanks to the education system in this country, I know I am one of thousands of people who feel like that
And then 2 years ago I discovered that the elitist bit wasn’t true. Poetry is for whoever wants it (although there are some academic snobs that would like to keep the normal folk out still). I bought myself some audio CDs of poetry readings and realised that poetry is simply a matter of taste. Someone else’s dull might be your idea of deep and meaningful. My idea of too long might be someone else’s perfect escapism, for example…

Anyway, my point is if my words were not the ones you were looking for – Mystery Feedback Meanie, then think about how yours were much less imaginative. And I have to suffer the consequences of yours every day

Here are some alternatives:
‘It’s not for me.’
‘I didn’t really like it.’
‘Not my kind of thing.’
‘I prefer Auden.’

‘Childish’ is just … childish, really.

31 thoughts on “Ouch! Feedback Nasties

  1. I’d be willing to bet the person who left that comment is one of those academic snobs you mention in this post.

    For people who do have human feelings, the poem is beautiful, haunting and deeply meaningful. Perhaps the person who read and reviewed it failed to read your synopsis, or perhaps they are simply jealous because they spend hours lamenting the structure of a broken leaf and have no idea how to write about emotions.



    • Thanks, Rebecca. It’s still difficult to keep my knee-jerk reactions in check about it at the moment but I am trying! 😉
      You would hope a proper literary critic would be able to select more appropriately from their vocabulary perhaps, wouldn’t you? I always think the most clever people can give feedback without offending – however terrible they think something is. Some people really don’t seem to care about feelings. The other thought that keeps occurring to me is that someone is deliberately trying to hurt me but then I think that no one would be that shallow. 😦


  2. It seems incredibly churlish to post a negative review for anything, let alone something that was freely given. (Although, I’m not sure I’d classify a one-word response as fair comment or give it as much weight as calling it a review would do.)

    I’m sorry you’ve taken what this one person said so much to heart, Rach. I understand that the poem was very personal to you, but this was only one person’s opinion and, if we’re going to put make our work publicly available, we’re going to get some of these hastily tossed out comments in amongst all the other thoughtful responses.


    • Thanks, Kath. I was feeling especially emotional and sensitive yesterday and blogging about it really helped.
      Yes, it wasn’t just the choice of that one word – although nasty and unhelpful in itself – but, as you say, the poem it was attached to and my reasons for writing it the way I did. I guess they can’t understand. And yes, it is a learning curve!


  3. If he/she couldn’t put their name to what they wrote, then it’s not worthy of consideration. Sadly there seem to be a lot of people in life with opinions that don’t seem to consider other people as up to their standards. I’m sure other people like me will read it, enjoy it and take something away from it and that’s who you write (as well as yourself), for not some arsehole who wants to make a cheap jibe.


    • I guess it’s the reviewers that write opinions as facts that are the most annoying. It’s pig-headed. It’s fine to dislike something but they are not THE reasons they are THEIR reasons and often so-called “honest” “tell-it-like-it-is people” are simply being rude and narrow-minded. I’m thinking here of opinionated reviews in general not of my writing really. I’ve read some rather awful comments on Amazon about books I’ve enjoyed. Why can’t people be clever enough to see that if they don’t like something it doesn’t make it bad??? Anyway, at least I’ve moved out into the wider sphere of literary review and am not trapped in my own self-pity today! 😀


  4. What I most admire about this is that you stated your hurt publicly. I had a similar experience recently where I received a one word review of something I put out there. I stalked around the house for a couple of days trying to let it go. I found it difficult to believe this person could be so rude, and so cynical. And I said nothing to her. In public I ignored it. I’ll get over it as I know you will. When it happens again I may speak up, I don’t know. I’m glad I found this, and I’m glad you wrote it. Thank you. Some people are just jerks.


    • Thanks, Stephanie. All the common sense goes out the window when someone hurts your feelings, doesn’t it?!
      I think it’s good to be sensitive, though. And honest. But honest whilst being aware that feelings are feelings just as opinions are opinions. Too many people confuse feelings and opinions for truth or fact.
      I’ve read things that are far too saucy/horrific/romantic/ for me and not given them any review at all. If it’s not my cup of tea and I haven’t paid for it then I can simply walk away. If pushed, though, I could write a review that says why it’s not my thing without being insulting.
      What’s astounding is that even some people who are so-called experts with literary credentials aren’t even capable of this. There are often appalling reviews in the papers, containing cheap shots and throw-away comments.
      I also think there’s the matter of knowing whether the person you are reviewing will be aware of your comment. For example, it’s fine for me to watch a film with my kids and shout, ‘This is crap!’ at the TV but I wouldn’t say that to the filmmaker or the person who wrote the script. I’d be more likely to say, ‘There’s too much violence in it for me,’ or ‘I thought the leading lady was a bit stereotypical,’ etc. Not that I get to talk to filmmakers too often! 😉

      It’s difficult isn’t it? Because I’m not sure I want a tough skin…


  5. I wouldn’t dwell on it. You didn’t write the poem for that person, is all. Someone else may have drawn great comfort from it, but not felt able to comment — we never really know what happens to our work when we put it out, we can only offer it up.


    • Thanks Martha. Yes, it is the ‘out there’-ness of it. It’s no longer just on my blog where people visit my place and have to give a name before they comment. It’s on an app is if it doesn’t belong to me anymore. Only it does, very much so. I only chose to have it published by Ether because so many people had said they were affected by it, that it was exactly how they felt after losing a parent and I am aware that many, many people have read it. It was on the order of service at my father-in-law’s funeral and the local vicar carries it around with her and shows it to other bereaved people. I thought that eventually it might get used anonymously and I just wanted to put my name to it.
      You’re right, of course – I didn’t write the poem for that person. They don’t understand. I wrote it for all the people that DO understand how it feels to need simple words in grief when everything else is so complicated.
      It was also very bad timing. I was very much missing my dad yesterday.


  6. Wow, this is so hard isn’t it. How can we gain an audience but still protect our creative selves from the inevitable responses of people who don’t gel with our work?

    I haven’t read the poem in question (though I will make an effort to do so now) but if you are writing from the point of view of a bereaved child, of whatever age, then maybe you have been hugely successful with the piece and this ‘critic’ just spectacularly missed the point?

    It’s OK to be hurt but I do hope you dust yourself off and keep creating work that matters to you. There are many more lovely and supportive folk out there than there are thoughtless ones, write for them but mainly for yourself. X


  7. I do want honest feedback when I put my work up for criticism. Anything else isn’t worth having. I want to know where it fails and why, if the critter is able to pinpoint it. However, once something is published, any criticisms should be made privately or not at all. I think you got an honest reaction from the reader, but it wasn’t appropriate. If I were you, I would think twice before putting something so very personal into the public domain. Readers come in all shapes and sizes and it simply hurts too much to get this kind of feedback.


    • Thanks, Susan. I agree I would have benefitted from reasons but this was one word and a very unhelpful one at that. Honest? Well, that’s debatable. It was just an insult. And it didn’t really tell me anything useful… I am still glad I shared it on the app. I write from the guts always have and always will. I can’t stop sharing my writing either which is why I wrote this honest post. I will get over it. I think it’s a good idea for people to point out that comments like this hurt because I know I am not alone. We shouldn’t have to toughen up, hide away, stop sharing. This is what it is like to be sensitive and it’s a good thing.


  8. Childish just about sums up the person leaving the comment.
    Something written from the heart is so often personal. It takes a like mined person to see the feeling in a poem.
    We are all entitled to our opinions, but if you can’t say something nice, then don’t bother at all; or one of your alternatives.
    ‘sticks and stones may break my bones,
    but words will cut through like a knife.’
    Helen x


  9. Thank you for this. I have been agonising over some bad reviews lately. One is perfectly reasonable and I don’t mind that review as it seems to be genuine but the rest seem to border on being malicious. I know I can’t please everyone but….*sigh*


    • What ARE they up to, Denyse? I don’t see the point unless they are being helpful. I’m afraid some people really are just being malicious. I don’t understand it. I do wish they would get on with their own lives instead of trying to muck up other people’s


  10. I hate feedback, be it after a gig when someone sidles up and says “You were alright, but that other fella was funnier.” or on a piece of writing when someone says “It goes on a bit doesn’t it?”
    I feel like gripping them, shaking them and pushing them up against a wall and shouting “I don’t care what you think you moron!”
    But I can’t, because I do care about what they think… the b*st*rds.
    I’d love to follow them home, point at one of their children and say “He’s a bit ugly isn’t he?” or “Hmmm, fat and ginger? You must be gutted.” but I can’t, because that would upset them, just like it upsets me when they have a go at my work… my babies.


  11. I’d look at the glass half-full, Rachel. You GET feedback – cool. My current book – with Kindle Direct – might as well be buried in a locked trunk under Alacatraz. Not a single sale since its release in September, despite my PR. I’d pay someone to slag it off – at least they’d have read it. Anyway…such things can only strengthen you in future.


  12. I agree. Bad feedback is a rather horrible thing and the best thing to do is to reply to it in the way you have done. Still, the more bad feedback you get the less it starts to affect you so this could be the start of a good thing.


    • Thanks, Chris. It is good to be reminded regularly that I’m not perfect, my writing’s not perfect and I will never appeal to everyone. But what a bugger that I don’t see it in a balanced way at the time and that the bad stuff claims the focus and taints all the good stuff for me.
      Fortunately I’m over it now, and it has put up a wall – a force field if you like – regarding that poem. Strange… I never thought I’d say that… Anyway, if a review is worth taking seriously it has to be a lot better than that. 🙂


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