Back when I first started writing, I listened to a lot of people I thought were the blogging experts. They always said to do two things: keep your writing consistent, and reply to every comment. The consistency of writing was to get the mythical algorithm to favor your content, while the comment-replying was meant to build a “tribe” by currying engagement.
At first, I found both easy. I loved writing, and I had the time and inclination to do it as often as I wanted, so consistency was no issue. Every email with a new comment was exciting to open and read. I loved hearing what my readers were thinking about my story, whether positive, neutral, or negative. I felt like I was finally building my fabled tribe.
Tribe, if you’re out there, thanks for sticking with me so far.
But then I started noticing a trend. Many of the comments, especially on my more vulnerable, heartfelt or emotional stories, were a bit… hurtful.
I wish I could say I was thick-skinned enough that it bounced right off me. But honestly, I’m not — I’m easily bruised and I take these types of thing to heart. So when I started reading some of the absolutely vitriolic things that some people were taking time out of their day to write, and contemplated the effort and energy it would take to reply? It made me want to stop writing.
In my head, I could hear all those gurus I’d followed this far, telling me what to do:
They’ve taken the time to read and reply — you owe them an answer.
Well, I’m going to stop right there: you don’t owe them a moment of your time. You’re poured your heart and soul out onto a computer screen. They can say whatever they want, of course, but you do not owe them an answer.
Sometimes they’re trying to leverage your influence.
One recent discovery for me was that some commenters leave comments in bad faith.
I recently read a story aimed at helping people get X number of followers in Y months, and one of the strategies they suggested was to leave intentionally antagonistic or otherwise contrary comments on the stories of “influential” writers.
The theory is, if you can bait the writer into giving you a reply, even if it’s just “F*** off,” the comment gets moved higher up in the comment trail, which means other readers might come across it, and check out your profile.
I don’t know about you, but when I first came here to write, I didn’t try to hack or manipulate my way to the top. I didn’t leave any incendiary comments just to get a rise out of the author. I just wrote what I liked. So it was surprising to me — although it shouldn’t have been — that people are constantly trying to game the system, and then trying to game you by association.
When I see comments like this, I don’t see how replying would do either of us any good. I refuse out of principle to engage.
If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Honestly, one of my least favorite things about the internet is the easy access to anonymity. On the internet, you can say things to people you’d never say to them in person. The age-old adage of being nice or staying silent has no power here, because on the internet, you can say the most hurtful, horrible things, press enter, and disappear into the ether.
But I still wonder — why do people spend considerable time and emotional effort to say negative things? What’s the point? They can’t be hoping to persuade me to change my mind. All they can be hoping for is that just as I’ve made them angry by daring to write something they disagree with, that they can make me angry or upset as comeuppance.
Sometimes the price is not worth the outcome.
Finally, even if every comment were a wonderful, rainbow-filled gush of praise and love, and even if replying to it meant that I would cement their place in my “tribe,” garnering me much fame and money down the road, I still wouldn’t reply to every comment.
Why? Because it’s exhausting. It takes time. Even if the comment is just, “This was great!” I have to think of something pertinent, on-brand, and nice to say back. Even though all of my comments frequently say the same thing, I can’t just copy-paste “Thanks for reading!” on every one.
I’d rather earn less money, less acclaim, grow more slowly, and not feel obliged to reply to every comment.
And to be frank, I think my time is better spent — writing my next story.
For me, writing is a lot like running.
I know it’s good for me. Writing is cathartic for me, running improves my health and fitness. I know I’ll improve if I keep persisting. They’re both skills you have to practice I have good days and bad days. I have to set sustainable goals, or else I’ll fail at the first hurdle.
Most importantly, if it’s not enjoyable, I won’t do it.
Both running and writing need to be rewarding for me, or else I will simply find better things to do with my time. If I felt that I had to reply to all comments, I’d quickly run out of desire to continue.
Replying to comments is something I occasionally have the mental strength to do, and I do love engaging with the people who have made the effort to tell me my story resonated, or that it struck a chord in them, or that they appreciate me telling my experiences.
I read every single comment I get, even when I can see from the header of the email that it’s going to be nasty, even when I know it’ll upset me. But knowing that I don’t have to reply? It lets me set aside my guilt and move on with my day.
It means I can still love writing, still carry on with my great love, free of the burden of dealing with things I don’t want to.