On getting started.

Posted on January 14, 2013 at 2.16 pm

Q. I guess what I’m asking is how do I gain the confidence to share my views. The current firearms debate for example. I’m so worried about the criticism and the potential hate that I don’t get involved. How did you deal with such things? — thewellman, from tumblr.

A. I’m not sure I can say anything that would cause you to feel confident—feelings are a tricky thing to produce.

That said, here’s what I’d basically suggest:

1. Say what you think.

2. Make sure you say it sincerely, as graciously as possible, and with lots of good sources to back up your claims. If you use a cold tone or don’t document your facts well, you’re inviting criticism and disagreement. It’s fine to write forcefully and make a fierce argument, but don’t say or do anything you wouldn’t say or do in person. In short: Make your personality as a writer a complement to your ideas, not a distraction.

3. Always be open to the possibility that you are wrong or haven’t heard all sides of the story. Just today I posted a correction from another blogger to a post I made which didn’t present an accurate picture in its first version.

4. If people respond to your opinions, that’s great! That means you’ve expressed yourself clearly and strongly enough to spark conversation. Read the responses as much as possible.

5. But here’s the thing: Not all responses are equal. Regardless of whether the person responding agrees with you or not, their input may or may not be any good. If another blogger responds with thoughtful criticisms of your arguments, you might want to take the time to reply. You don’t have to if you don’t have time or are feeling sick that day or just don’t feel like it, but it’s good if you do.

However, if someone responds with little more than curses and name calling, I’d advise ignoring it. If they are particularly crude or do this sort of thing repeatedly, you can even block them—and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Because let’s be realistic: Other bloggers with whom you actually want to build an online relationship—bloggers whose opinions are respected and valued, even where they’re not shared—are not going to be the ones replying to you with a stream of pointless, misspelled profanity. They’re just not, and you don’t need to spend time feeling bad about yourself or your opinions because someone got angry and couldn’t be bothered to engage you in actual dialogue.

The good news is that after a while, if you consistently focus on being polite, firm, and dedicated to the issues rather than attacking other people, you won’t get much of the bad kind of negative feedback at all.

6. Talk to the bloggers who you would like to have talking to you, and build yourself a friendly community. Share posts from writers you like, and—and this is crucial if they have a big following—add your own commentary. This will help them become familiar with you. If you don’t add commentary, you’re just one in the line of dozens of responses and you won’t be noticed.

In fact, sharing someone else’s work with commentary is maybe a good way to start building confidence about posting (to circle back to your original question). It’s kind of a lower pressure situation, I think, than originating posts.

Also, use tagging to your advantage. If you want to say something against gun control, for instance, tag it “libertarian” or “Second Amendment,” not “gun nuts” or “progressive.” You’re going to draw a different crowd depending on the tags you use, and it’s ok to play it safe while you’re just getting started.

At any rate, hopefully this is helpful. Best of luck!

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