Creating Free Content & Dealing with Criticism

Creating Free Content Comes with Criticism

You likely have had the experience where you overhear people talking and you feel like you just have to jump into the conversation? That happened to me today.

Normally, if it was in person, it would have been rude. But it was on Twitter, so responding about free content and dealing with criticism, was not only ok – it was welcome.

What started it was that I saw Scott Hanselman write on Twitter,

“Let us be appreciative of the FREE CONTENT the folks on the internet have given us. Give constructive feedback, or JUST MOVE ON. Like, don't harsh my mellow, man.”

Like I said, I couldn't help myself. Because someone else had written back to Scott, telling him that most people creating content online (with presumably little to no audience) would welcome any feedback, even negative stuff.

I disagreed. I can't speak for everyone but when I write on the internet, I write to be helpful. When you reply with your thanks, it's awesome. When you write to tell me I misspelled something, I'm thankful. But when you reply and call me names – nope. I'm not here for that.

It's why this version of the site doesn't have comments. I used to have millions of comments on this site. But it took so much energy to moderate things that I killed them all. And now, you have to subscribe to my newsletter and hit reply to get info to me.

Nevertheless, people still do it. The other I day I wrote that competition was good. Someone replied back with one word, “shill.” That's a negative term that means I'm an accomplice to a swindler and I'm using my enthusiasm to encourage others to be swindled. In the past that would have hurt. The other day, I deleted the email without giving it more than a second to consider the painful life of the sender that pushed them to go out of their way to be a mean critic.

Not my first rodeo. I deleted the email and haven't thought about it until writing this new post.

But I have written about feedback before. In fact, I wrote before on how not to give feedback when rating a WordPress plugin.

Anyway, here is how I deal with criticism and how I recommend you do too.

Dealing With Criticism Strategy #1: Don't Respond

You know this dynamic as well as I do. When you read criticism, you get defensive. Then you reply, and when you do, you're mean. You just made everything worse. So instead of saying anything, sometimes it's just better to leave it alone.

I know, you're going to tell me that's hard. But what's the alternative? You respond, make things worse, and then you can't stop thinking about it (and may even feel regret).

Not joking with you, I once was on a cruise with my wife, and someone sent me an email that bothered me. So I replied. And then they replied. And four email exchanges later, our vacation was ruined. I was in a horrible mood and the whole thing sucked.

Lesson number one is to not give the critique space to live in your head. And you do that by letting it go.

Dealing With Criticism Strategy #2: Find the Good, Toss the Rest

Now, not all criticism is bad or wrong, even if the person giving you their “feedback” clearly doesn't know how to do it well. But that just means your job is to read the feedback, take what's useful from it, and throw away the rest.

I gave a talk once and as I came off the stage, someone approached me to tell me the things I had missed in my talk. In other words, they were suggesting that my talk wasn't as good as it could have been, and they were inviting themselves to help me make it better. At least that's how I heard it. Ok, not exactly, but you get my point.

The next time I gave the talk, I did indeed add one of the things they had shared. The rest was left on the cutting room floor.

Dealing With Criticism Strategy #3: Use a Human Filter

The third strategy comes directly from my days in the church world. I would be on stage giving a talk, and people would take cards out and write comments. These are actually called “comment cards” and tons of churches have them. They're basically a way for the congregation to tell you how much they appreciated your words. But more often, they were ways for them to tell you that the music was too loud, not the right songs, the message was too long, etc.

Now, I learned this long after I stopped speaking on stage, but I think it's awesome. A friend at one church says they have someone else read them on Monday morning and only pass the ones that are actually helpful. Another friend says they only read the ones that have people's names on it. If you're giving anonymous feedback, it goes right in the trash.

Human filters are a great way to protect your heart from mean critics.

Dealing With Criticism Strategy #4: Write without Editing

For creators, I think the worst consequence of criticism is that it changes our creation process.

In the past, it often meant that even as I was writing a post, I'd start thinking about what the critic was going to say, and then I'd start editing myself. I wasn't dealing with criticism, it was dealing with me. And it was winning. I would write and re-write , edit and re-edit, all because a mythical critic was going to complain.

That ended when I changed how I wrote. Today I write from beginning to end in a single draft without editing anything. I may go back and edit – after all, that's what makes the writing better. But I won't ever edit while writing again.

And to top it off, I write to one person. I think about a specific person, and then I write them this post – a letter just to them.

In doing that, I keep their name and face in my head as I write, rather than the critic.

Have some feedback for me?

If you want to talk about this post, you have three ways to do it.

  • First, you can always hit me up on Twitter and we can have that talk in public.
  • Second, you can hit reply to this if you got it via my newsletter and send me a private email.
  • Lastly, you can give me a ring (though it will cost you) by booking my time on Clarity.
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Chris Lema
Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.