Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Makers vs. Haters

I finished off a writing project over Thanksgiving weekend. It was a small project, but it was definitely a project- as in, longer than a blog post. I have been working on it all year. Literally. (And yes, I am using that word correctly in this case- I started this project in January.) It feels great to be done with it (at least until I need to make revisions). It also feels great to have proved to myself that I can indeed get a non-work project of reasonable size done right now, even if it takes the better part of a year to do it. It gives me hope for the slightly more ambitious project I have in mind to try next. That one involves coding, and so will present different issues than a writing project, but still... I feel inordinately proud of myself for having managed to complete something.

So anyway, I finished a project. Yay me! And then, for some inexplicable reason I went and read some of the Amazon reviews on some of the other books published by Xist Publishing, the company that will be publishing my children's book. Most of the reviews were positive, or at least constructive (a good, constructive negative review is a useful thing!), but there were a few that just seemed mean-spirited. Obviously, I knew that people wrote mean reviews. Still, reading these was a reminder that not everyone will happily welcome my little projects when they head out into the world. I started to question the wisdom of opening myself up to another source of things that could make me feel crappy. Boo.

Then I remembered the recent Oatmeal cartoon about creating things. His bit at the end about destructive criticism is quite apt. We focus so much on being able to take criticism well and use it to learn and grow, and that is indeed a good thing. But we shouldn't forget that not all criticism can be used in that way. Some of it will just make us want to stop creating things, which is too bad. I may never create something as good as the average Oatmeal comic and I certainly will never create something as wonderful as the Mona Lisa, but I still might create something that has some value, and it would be a shame if I refused to let my creativity out just because some people are mean.

Cranky Internet Guy
As I pondered this, the meanest of the comments I had read started to amuse me. The guy was upset because the author had "gotten her husband to take some pictures" and then "written some captions for them" or something like that (I'm not even going to waste my time going back to get the direct quotes). Well, who does he think creates the illustrations in the books put out by the big publishing companies? Someone's wife or husband, probably. Or maybe not. Whoever it is, it is just a person, not some specially anointed creater of children's book illustrations. And the words he dismisses as mere "captions" form a story that my kids rather like and ask me to read. So he didn't like the book. My kids do like the book. Who's to say who is right? Certainly in my world, my kids' opinions matter more than those of some random cranky guy on the internet.

I can handle the cranky guys on the internet. If they don't like what I create, so what? It is unlikely that they will ever have paid more than a few dollars for whatever it is I made. It is not like I plan to set out to defraud anyone of large sums of money- I will create something and people will pay some small sum for it and they will like it or not. And if it succeeds, great. If it turns out that it sucks and it fails, well that's fine, too. I can try again on something else. I can embrace the suck. Not creating anything at all is worse than creating something that sucks.

And you know what is worse than that? Sitting around hating on the things that other people create.

The Randians have it all wrong. The conflict isn't between the Makers and the Takers. It is between the Makers and the Haters. I know which side I'd rather be on.

(Also, I've resolved to start writing more reviews on Amazon, particularly 3 and 4 star ones. Those are the ones I trust. The 5 star ones always seem suspicious- I know I don't love most things that much. And the 1 star ones are often cranky internet guys. But those 3 and 4 star reviews? I reckon they'll point you to the good stuff.)


  1. Yey Cloud! Congratulations on completing your project!!! *throws confetti*

    We focus so much on being able to take criticism well and use it to learn and grow, and that is indeed a good thing. But we shouldn't forget that not all criticism can be used in that way. Some of it will just make us want to stop creating things

    Spot on. And I think a lot of negativity on the web is in fact aimed at silencing people. It is well known that women are much more nastily criticized than men, etc.

    In my work (academic), there is constant rejection (grant review, paper review) and few affirmations. You have to learn to plow through and believe in yourself, because no one else is rooting for you. I think it's an important survival skill in my job. But when doing creative stuff for free, especially for the web, negativity makes me want to say "screw it" and drop it, because this is supposed to be a passtime, a way to relax, not another source of stress. I prefer my sources of stress to bring me money. ;)

    On an unrelated note, I must tell you how much I admire the breadth of your internet coverage. You clearly don't spend too much time online, but you cover a lot of quality ground and I am always thrilled to check the materials you link to.

    1. Thanks! I'm glad you like my links. You're right that I don't spend huge amounts of time surfing the web. I think I have lucked into some good sources of links- my husband finds a lot, and then I follow a range of people and read a couple of diverse news-like sites.

  2. I rely heavily on reviews, especially well thought out responses. Every time I make a decision based in part on the reviews, I send out a silent thank you to those who took the time to review the products.

    I, too, am suspicious of the extremes either way, but there are products that have warranted an extreme response from me one way or the other. What's important to me, and I'm sure to you and to any other analytic thinker, is the aggregate response.

  3. When I read reviews, I focus on the lengthy positive ones (length being an easy cheat for identifying constructive content) and the 1-star ones. Sometimes I find constructive criticism in the negative reviews, but when the bulk of the negative reviews are Cranky (or ill-informed) Internet People, then I feel good about dismissing the negative reviews and making my purchase in increased confidence. So in a way, when Cranky People leave such reviews, it actually *helps*... haha on them!

  4. Anonymity can bring out the worst in people. Oh, I know it has upsides -- you might not be keeping this blog if you couldn't be anonymous -- but it has real downsides, too. When people are free from social judgement, they don't always do nice things.

    1. heck yeah, this is absolutely true.

  5. I love your thought of the Makers and the Haters. I started working part time about 2 years ago, mostly so that I would have enough time to do things that I like to do. Turns out that a lot of what I like to do is make things - mostly crafty things, but pretty much any thing will do. It brings me so much happiness that it makes me think that we (as a species) are hardwired for making things. And our current economy, where so much of what we make isn't tangible, or isn't something we can show people at home, means that we're not fulfilling that need. I want to be on the Maker team, too.

  6. As the wife of that husband who took some photos (although I took a few of them myself, while holding a squirmy baby I might add!) I was initially shocked at the internet vitriol that was directed at our little book. But then, I remembered why I don't read Reddit or DroidLife or whatever it is my husband winds down with each evening. It is truly the makers and the haters...
    I am still amazed, however, at the passion people put into reviewing books. It has been enormously gratifying to read reviews like yours or the one that said "I'm seven and I like this book." (As a side note, I think I'm going to get my daughter to start reviewing the things she reads on Amazon--seems like a much better exercise than the traditional book report.) It's also a little bit horrifying to see people so disappointed with a book that we brought into existence, but we carry on.
    I do love it when I read a one-star review on anything (even our books) and it's obvious that someone has an ax to grind or is just plain crazy. I'd love to see reporting on what it does to sales, but one thing is for certain--the more reviews the better, and a range of stars is helpful, so please review away. The authors (and makers of other products) thank you for it.

    Anyway, thank you for trusting your book to us. Thank you for braving the internet trolls each week.

  7. Yay for completing your project! ITA that it's worse making nothing at all than making something that sucks. I think it's hard (and maybe even undesirable) to create something that has value to all people. Our company posted a photo of something our group created on Facebook recently. It was something that deviated from our usual approach. Overall we received decent comments about it. But we also received one scathing one. Of course, all I could think about was the one scathing one. But then, I considered the comment. It may help me rethink things or improve things next time around. But even if I ultimately decide that I disagree, I'll know that at least we got people talking. Which for me means that we're delivering the unexpected and carving new territory, which is one of our goals. I think when negative criticism hurts me the most is when deep down I am unhappy with what I've made. When I feel I've gone the distance in making something, and it is my truth at a particular moment in time, I am confident in that, and I am comfortable with people not liking what I've put out into the world.


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