Dealing With Criticism

It was fun to crack open a little bit of our personal “stuff” last Tuesday for this post about the real $herdog (yes, I’m still patiently waiting for that nickname to catch on) and John’s J-Boom version. And a funny thing happened after sharing those. Not only did they receive over 1,200 amazingly awesome and encouraging comments (note to self: apparently you’re not a social pariah if you admit that you sometimes have strawberry cream cheese on your ear and are inclined to impersonate Cindy Lou Who) but we also got dozens of emails – not even exaggerating – asking about how to deal with criticism and respond to negative comments. And thus this post was born.

I guess by sharing all of our weird idiosyncrasies it encouraged people to write about something they’re struggling with and ask how we handle it? It also could have had something to do with this thread on the $herdog post. Either way, the emails mostly came from folks who run small blogs who have somehow fallen into larger readerships thanks to being pinned on Pinterest or otherwise thrust into the spotlight suddenly (like a feature on Apartment Therapy or Design Sponge). And the general gist of every single email was this: someone was blogging along about whatever they blog about (some of these people aren’t home bloggers at all) and then… zinger… it happened. A not-so-nice comment. And it stung.

With more readers definitely comes more “feedback” – both good and bad. And you know I’m happy to be that spunky little cheerleader on your shoulder shouting high-pitched overly-enthusiastic things like: “you can do it!” and “reach for the stars!” – so here’s my humble advice in a nutshell:

Sounds corny huh? But I’ll explain how those four things have really helped us deal with the whole “you’re putting yourself out there and I’m anonymous so I’m going to tell you exactly how I feel” phenomenon. After all we’ve been told (both nicely and not so nicely) a few of the following things:

See all the contradictions going on in there? Basically if we listened to every suggestion, well, we wouldn’t have a thing to blog about. Not a single thing. And after 2,000+ posts and over four years of doing this, we’ve definitely learned that some folks like things that others hate and some people have an opinion when it comes to how they’d run this blog if it were theirs. But here’s the thing. It’s not theirs.

Which brings us to…

Tip #1: It’s your blog. It might sound weird to point out, but your blog isn’t a magazine with a team of 30 people who poll their readers and try to please the largest group (at least I don’t think it is). The very definition of a blog is just an outlet to write whatever you want and share whatever part of your life that you’re passionate about in your own words and at your own pace and in whatever way feels natural to you. Whether you do it full time or as a hobby once a month, your only real task is to be who you are and share what you like and those who like it will drop in.

In our case, we’re just two people with a dog and a kid who happened to gain a following sharing our adventures on the home front. We just write about whatever’s going on in our lives and seems interesting to us, which has gotten us here (we’re not Facebook or Pinterest, but 5 million hits a month = crazytown to two kids like us). See, if you attempt to please every last commenter, as much as you love and value your readers, know that it’s Mission Impossible – and it could even lead to your blog’s downfall (it won’t be yours anymore). So trust yourself. Everyone else might have an opinion, but your voice really should be the loudest and your vote really should be the one that counts.

Tip #2: Be who you are. That is enough. I think most people are a little guilty of the whole wanting-more syndrome. When a show ends I immediately want the next episode to come on (and I want it to be even better than the last). When I get a magazine and it’s feeling a little thin I wish it were twice as thick. And I think boxes of Oreos should be bottomless (I expect them to refill themselves while I’m sleeping). So it’s no surprise that when it comes to blogging, well, readers are inclined to want more. They might say it not-so-nicely, or very kindly indeed. And either way it might make you feel sort of wop-wop. But it’s just human nature. And I can tell you from experience that you will be a happier person and a better blogger if you make peace with that completely normal phenomenon.

You can’t control how every single person reacts to your blog, but you can control how you blog. And struggling to eke out more to the point of exhaustion or burnout (be it recipes, sewing tips, DIY stuff, photography pointers, craft ideas, or anything else you blog about) just isn’t the answer. At least not if – in the words of Claire Danes in Homeland – you’re playing the long game. Ideally your method of blogging should make you feel more inspired, creative, and enthusiastic about blogging – which in turn will shine through so your readers get just as giddy about it as you do. There’s a reason that your blog is attracting a readership and people are coming back. So just go at your own pace and concentrate on doing things well and not making yourself sick or neglecting your family because a few usually very well-intentioned folks want something that should take ten days to be done, photographed, and blogged about in five. Forgive people for being excited and impatient. We all do it.

Of course establishing these boundaries applies to other scenarios too, so if you have a family blog and folks want more photos/info about your kids than you’re comfortable sharing, know that whatever you want to share = enough. In blogging I generally think if it feels wrong (or makes you feel tired/sad/uninspired), it’s wrong. So don’t do it. As much as I hate being told to relax (seriously, ask John, it’s on his “do not ever say that to me unless you want me to go crazy on you” list), just try to relax and do your thing.

Tip #3: Try To Give The Good Feedback As Much Weight As The Bad. The funny thing is that everyone we talk to who is wrestling with comment criticism admits they still get waaaaay more positive comments than negative ones. I mean the ratio is usually astounding. We know it just takes one cutting comment to get under your skin, but when the vast majority of people love something, it sucks to let one commenter sink your battleship. Let’s do some light math (I don’t do heavy math, but light math is ok). If over the course of a week or two, 99 people take the time to say they like your blog/post/project/house/whatever and one person chimes in to say something’s not their cup of tea, that still adds up to a 99% success rate. And those are good odds my friend- so keep on keeping on! Heck, even if a ton of your readers don’t like something but you like it, I wholeheartedly think that you should keep blogging about it. Why? Because you like it and – once again, for the folks in the back – it’s your blog. Picture me up stage wearing a pant suit and a pocket protector saying “I can’t hear you!” and holding the mic out so you can shout that chorus with me. Or dancing around in this outfit chanting it with my lovely family while serving up a heaping portion of jazz hands (Burger’s clearly hiding because he doesn’t want to be seen in this getup).

Tip #4: Do everything with love. It’s admittedly extremely cheesy (and you might hear a tiny violin playing in the background) but my favorite advice is usually summed up in that phrase. It’s actually written on a post-it note that I’ve had stuck to my laptop for the longest time. When someone takes time out of their day to say something they’d most likely never say to anyone’s face (or would they…?) I’ve come to realize that spewing the same venom that they flung in my direction won’t make me feel any better (heck, it would probably make me feel significantly worse).

So I try to look at them from a place of love. Maybe they’ve had a terrible day. Maybe they’ve lost someone they love very much and they’re hurting. It may seem weird to try to have compassion for those who don’t seem to be very sensitive to your feelings, but I’m telling you that there’s something to it. It helps me respond with humor or a quick explanation from my point of view without getting too heated. Or even just with the words “Merry Christmas to you and your family!” like I did when someone said that decorating our family Christmas tree with paint chips was akin to decorating it with tampon wrappers. Growing up my mom always said that above being successful, popular, or athletic (all the things I worried about so much back then), being kind was the most important thing. And that’s something I’d love to pass down to Clara. Sing it with me: all ya need is love.

So there it is. My brain dump. I hope it helps at least one or two of you out there who might be struggling with growing and having more eyes on you. I know it sounds corny, but for us this blog is just about sharing our adventures and hopefully helping you guys along the way. That’s why we make videos about grouting and cabinet painting and take so many photos and share every last detail – in the hope of helping a handful of you guys at home. And it’s also why we love sharing behind the scenes blogging stuff like this (since so many of you are fellow bloggers these days). I am completely embarrassed to admit this, but we wrote the Thank You part of our book a few weeks ago, and it wasn’t the part about our family and friends that made me cry, it was the part about you, our lovely readers. Crying isn’t even the word. It wasn’t cute. I was weeping. There was smeared mascara and a runny nose. The whole nine yards.

The enthusiasm, sweetness, and support that you folks send our way is nothing less than life-changing. I really mean that. The least we can do is crack open a little bit of ourselves in beyond-DIY posts like this from time to time (every once in a while we get the itch to overshare, like this and this along with our more recent J-Boom and $herdog posts). So lets get all sappy and share mom and dad quotes in the comments. Or any other older and wiser family member who said something while you were growing up that rings oh so true to you. My mom was also famous for saying “always wear nice underwear in case you end up in the emergency room” throughout my formative years. And let me tell you, she was right on the money about that too. It’s waaaaaaaay too embarrassing to go into, but I didn’t follow her advice and I royally regretted it. There were Care Bears involved. And I was 21. And I don’t think the doc grasped the concept of ironic underwear. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.

Pssst- We announced this week’s giveaway winners. Click here to see if you’re one of them.

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