If Your Writing Pleases Everyone, You’re Doing Something Wrong

Ryan Fan

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometimes in your life” — Winston Churchill

I have had my fair share of extremely harsh, hateful comments, and a couple of death threats here or there. It’s not like I welcome that kind of very harsh reception, but as I’ve gotten more exposure, positive and negative, with the topics I write about, particularly politics and religion.

Some negative comments are constructive. Some are flat-out vociferous. But that led to a wider lesson that didn’t happen when I was getting less exposure:

If your writing pleases everyone, you’re doing something wrong

It might mean that you’re not taking a strong stance on anything, not standing by your beliefs, or not taking enough risks in your writing. To truly be vulnerable as a writer, it’s opening yourself up to the possibility that people might not like your writing.

Just like how the best villains in TV shows are the ones that can solicit hatred and negative emotions out of you, good writing that you disagree with will solicit similar negative emotions. The worst reaction you can elicit is not negativity — it is indifference.

If you have a strong enough voice, not everyone will like what you want. You will have a lot of really loyal fans, “meh” fans, detractors, people who are just indifferent.

Your beliefs, writing style, and topics you write about cannot possibly please everyone. Sure, they will probably please a lot of people, but it’s not only just about religious or political opinions — a lot of people just won’t like how you write, which words you use, how you use your adjectives, and how you compose your sentences.

By no means should you try to provoke negative reactions, but they are inevitable

A good writer is not a deliberate provocateur. You might get a lot of hate views and reads by setting yourself out to troll and offend people, but you’re also sacrificing your integrity and ethics. Negative reception should be a byproduct, not a desired outcome.

But look at what all great writers from Stephen King, Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, and Shakespeare have in common — they have been vilified. Look at the most popular book in human history — the Bible.

How many people out there hate the Bible?

What great writers have in common is that they stuck to themselves, their beliefs, genres, and styles. They put their voice and stories out there unapologetically. Writers don’t usually intend to offend anyone, but it happens regardless.

We must acknowledge that people simply have different interests and opinions. Readers do especially, and that means in no world should every reader like everything we have to say. If they do, then we have built an echo chamber, not a story and not an argument.

If you elicit a bunch of long, disagreeing comments on your writing that verge in the “constructive criticism” category rather than hate and death threats, then good — it means you have a really thought-provoking piece that leads to a lot of thoughtful disagreement.

Writing that pleases everyone means you’re not writing for yourself

Just because you write something that can be enjoyed doesn’t mean that it will be enjoyed. But writing something that elicits only positive reactions means that you haven’t taken any risks, and that you played it safe in your writing. It means that you were holding something back.

But in writing, sometimes playing it safe is the riskiest thing you can do.

There are a lot of writers out there. There are thousands of writers who probably write on the same topics and genres that you write about.

If everyone is pleased by and likes your writing, it’s a sign that what you’re writing is just like everyone else’s — generic, cliche, and not unique. It means that you’re restricting yourself to being the person everyone likes, and the person everyone likes is usually the person that people say “oh, he/she is cool,” but the person who people don’t have strong feelings about either way.

Ask yourself if there’s any famous writer out there who’s universally loved. How many can you count on your fingers? That’s right — zero.

As you gain more attention, it’s inevitable that not everyone is going to like your writing. It’s inevitable that not everyone is going to respect your life experiences. It’s inevitable that not everyone is going to like you, just like in the real world.

It’s easier to give a negative opinion and make your distaste for someone’s writing heard now more than ever. If you are on the receiving end of those comments, they might not be nice to see, but it means you’ve stood up for something. You stood up for your experiences, friends, family, or deeply ingrained beliefs.

Writing, by nature, is exposing yourself and a window into your mind that people won’t see all the time. In a lot of ways, it’s like being naked and subjecting yourself to not only praise, but scorn.

People have their own personal experiences and preferences, and when they leave you a negative comment, know that it’s more about them than it’s about you. And people are different, so there’s a wide range of how your writing can be interpreted.

Write your best work, your best stories, and defend what you believe in, and know that receiving untasteful comments is a natural byproduct in your progression as a writer. Don’t fixate on the negativity, but know you’re doing something right as you move onto your next story.

Photo: GaudiLab/Shutterstock/CC BY-SA 4.0

Originally published on July 6, 2020 on The Partnered Pen.

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me: https://ko-fi.com/ryanfan

Baltimore, MD

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