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:

  • It’s your blog.
  • Be who you are. That is enough.
  • Try to give the good feedback as much weight as the bad.
  • Do all things with love.

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:

  • I’m not really interested in posts about _____, so I vote you skip them
  • I’m losing interest in big projects – do more little ones
  • Do more big projects – the small ones are filler
  • I want more Clara and Burger and everyday stuff
  • I want less Clara and Burger and everyday stuff
  • That paint color/art/room is ugly/not the right choice
  • Stop using certain words/expressions because they make me cringe
  • Stop being so cheap and spend some money
  • Stop spending so much money and be more frugal
  • Move faster, I’m bored
  • Move slower so I can catch up
  • I’m disappointed in this choice/this idea/you
  • This blog used to be better because _________
  • I will no longer read this blog because ________

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.

Comments

  1. Farrah says

    Haters gonna hate! ;) I think you all are great. Husband and I are in the process of buying our first house and you and John are such an inspiration!

    • kylie says

      me too, farrah! every dated house we see that my husband rolls his eyes at I say ‘remember john & sherry painted all their trim!” or “remember john & sherry white washed their brick & paneling!” “It can be saved!” lol.

  2. Lindsey d. says

    Someone very wise once said “You can’t please all of the people all of the time…” Y’all are doing a great job! Keep it up!

    • says

      Oh my gosh, I’d almost forgotten hearing that as a kid. I love it.

      I guess I may be commenting on ‘that thread’, but I have been a follower of this blog since the beginning (ok, I may have missed about a year, but I read the whole thing in like 3 days) and since then I read or skim every post – never miss a one. You know what your blog did? It allowed me to see & enjoy different decorating styles and started the creative juices flowing again. I loved my house, but the decor had gotten stagnent. Without your blog (which caused me to find others that I adore as well), I’m not sure that my love for decorating & creativity would,ve resurfaced again.It’s hard to readjust a busy life but that was definitely the missing part. And it’s back baby!!

  3. Laura says

    Oh man, you guys are the BEST.

    And I thank you for the Care Bear snippet at the end. I spit coffee onto my monitor. Have a great day, and keep up the AMAZING work! :)

  4. Kristin says

    You guys are awesome! I love this post. Great words of advice. Keep on keepin’ on! (also, LESS Burger and Clara? NO WAY!)

    :)

  5. MJ says

    Hugs, Guys! You do amazing projects, but I doubt there’s any one person that’s going to be on board with every single one of them (raises hand), but that’s OK! Design is so personal, but that’s what makes it so much fun! I know any frustration I have with your projects is purely due to excitement. What will they think of next?! You’ve set the bar pretty high for yourselves, but do a really good job of mixing overarching house projects like the kitchen remodel with some quick house-tweak updates and I love how you keep moving forward!

  6. Leigh Anne says

    Great post…but is it sad that when I read the Claire Danes quote, I immediately thought, “Yay, YHL is watching Homeland!”

    Thanks for blogging about the good, the bad, and the ugly and keeping true to yourselves. We readers are excited to be along for the ride!

    • says

      Haha- we watched the entire season already! Gobbled that up! I needed something to break up 375 pages of manuscript reading and kitchen miscellany. Haha.

      xo,
      s

  7. says

    How Timely! Just yesterday, Chris and I talked about and posted what we are going to do with negative comments–now that they are definitely rolling in from time to time. A lot of bloggers may delete these comments, but we decided to keep ’em up and follow a more “John and Sherry approach” of understanding not everyone is going to like everything we do. So we decided we aren’t going to delete any comments unless they are spam or wildly inappropriate they would make our moms blush.

    http://chrislovesjulia.blogspot.com/2012/01/commenting-good-bad-and-rude.html

    That being said, your “Do all things with love” approach is beautiful.

    • says

      Such an interesting discussion! We fall right along where you fall on that subject. Our example is always this. A comment that stays: “this is ugly and your blog is stupid” (although it’s hardly constructive, we’re more than ok pushing publish). Comment that gets deleted: “your baby is ugly”. No need to make my mom want to reach through the computer and strangle people. Haha. Besides, we all know Clara is gorgeous so that person is just living in opposite day or something. I always picture someone’s nine year old son commandeering their computer and leaving a silly little comment like that. So bloop, it’s gone. I think we draw the line at extremely personal attacks that do nothing but get other readers riled up and create massive detours from the happy place we try to create.

      xo,
      s

    • Chelsea in Richmond says

      Do you seriously get “your baby is ugly” posts? I can’t even imagine what kind of person would write that. Bleh. So glad you guys have thick skins!

      I also can’t believe someone told you that you might as well use tampon wrappers on the tree. Wow. That’s about all I can say on that topic while keeping it “PG”…

    • says

      Oh we only get one or two really over the top things like that a year. I really just picture someone’s kid getting on the computer and writing “you smell like a fart” or “your kid is ugly” when their parents aren’t watching. Haha. Sometimes you just have to laugh.

      xo,
      s

    • Kelly says

      HAHAHAHA. Can you please please leave the comment next time someone responds to your post about curtains with “you smell like a fart”? That would make my life! LOL

  8. says

    Loved this post and they way you see/deal the people that leave off comments is great. My dad’s always said “Don’t let anyone steal your happiness”. And he’s right. I have that choice to let someone affect the way I feel or to make that important decision myself :) Thanks for your words.

  9. Katie says

    I am in LOVE with your blog and have never understood haters…don’t read it if you don’t like it! I am a stalker of your blog and though I don’t live in your area (I live all the way over in Iowa), I would probably be the odd one staring at you in the grocery store because you are famous to me!
    Keep up all your wonderful work, it inspires me daily! Thanks!

    • says

      You never know, I drop in on Iowa from time to time (my BFFs family lives in Reinbeck and we fly into DesMoines. That would be a pretty funny run in because I can guarantee I’d out-awkward you.

      xo,
      s

    • Meredith says

      Fellow Iowan reader—I would FLIP OUT if I saw you in the Des Moines airport. It would just be one giant fest of awkward. (Also, clearly based on this Iowa love, Iowa needs to be a stop on your book tour). :)

    • Jackie says

      Yet another Iowa reader! I want to run into you guys too!!! Love your blog. I never comment, but I always send my love and positive thoughts out into the universe for you all. Keep on keeping on.

    • Marie says

      I’m in Iowa too! If you do come on the book tour, come in the late spring or early fall and you should definitely check out the sculpture garden in downtown Des Moines. http://www.desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/pappajohn-sculpture-park.aspx

      I have had two very vivid dreams that you were in. I saw you in Walmart in one, but played it cool and didn’t say anything. In the other, my husband I drove to see my sister in Leesburg and apparently somehow worked it out to stay one night at your house (because you would totally invite random strangers to stay in your guest room!).

      About the criticism, I don’t get why people take the time to basically say “I don’t care”. If you don’t care, why did you take the time to comment? My current decorating taste/style is probably closer to the style of your old house. That said, I love seeing your bold choices in the new house.

    • says

      Ooh! Count me in as another reader from Iowa. Would love to see you here for your book tour.
      How funny to hear the words “Reinbeck,Iowa” coming from your blog.

  10. betty in munich says

    Love ya guys just the way you are! Wait, except I think you should get a cat – then you guys would be purrfect. Hee Hee I just crack myself up.

  11. Donna says

    Hey Sherdog,

    I am always amazed at how free people are to share their opinions and make negative comments. This post is excellent.
    You guys are great, I enjoy everything you write. Keep on keeping on.

    Also, when I was college several of my sorority sisters and I all had nicknames with dog in them. I was Dagdog, there was a Sheldog, a Lynnedog, Tdog and a smalldog (her last name was Smallwood). So I will think of you as Sherdog!

  12. says

    I have said this before and i will say it again. I think you guys are amazing. You have inspired me so much! I have lived in my house since 2004, and never did too much with it because I always thought that I would never be able to DIY things and that anything we wanted to do would cost money that we don’t have. That leads to feeling badly about your house, and in turn, yourself. Finding your blog has changed ALL of that. It really may seem strange, to some people, to tell you guys that you have in some ways changed my life, but the truth is you have. I now have the ability to make our house our home. Thank you, guys!

  13. says

    Great advice! I am always amazed at the mean comments people sometimes leave. I often wonder what is going on in their lives to make them so hurtful and impassioned about such silly little stuff…