I started writing this post in February. At the time, I’d received a very hateful letter from somebody who follows me on Facebook. If I’d posted these words then, it would have been in retaliation. Now, it’s simply a post about criticism.
I receive a good bit of criticism. But you probably knew that already.
Like most people, I hate criticism.
SIDENOTE: I don’t hate bad reviews. I see reviews as opinions about products that I created. And I’ve come to grips with the fact that some people will like what I do and some people won’t. Sure, sometimes the things people write about my books sting a bit. But criticism in the way of reviews is the nature of the “writing beast”—and I’ve learned to accept it as part of the job.
But sometimes, rather than writing a review of my book and posting their heated opinions on Amazon, a person will send me an email. Rather than critique my book, they instead critique/review me, my faith, and sometimes my eternal destiny.
In the beginning (seven years ago) that kind of criticism got to me. Sometimes it caused me to cry. Sometimes I got angry. Sometimes I consumed over it. On occasion, I let it affect my mood and how I perceived the good things that people said.
People started sending me hate mail shortly after my first book The Christian Culture Survival Guide released. I received numerous mean-spirited critiques for writing CCSG. But the one letter that sticks out came from a pastor in California. After reading CCSG, he wrote to tell me that he thought I was a disgrace to the kingdom of God, and that my writing made me sound like “a whining p*ssy of a man.” He then apologized if his “tone” was un-Christlike.
Among those early letters and emails, I got called many interesting things. Among the most memorable are: “the antitheses of manhood,” a “whoremonger,” and a “f*cking idiot.”
I wrote that last guy back. My response was kind. I thanked him for reading my blog, and for writing me an email, and then I told him that I would pray and ask God to use his words to help me “grow.”
I really wanted to mean what I wrote back to him. But truthfully, I didn’t. I was pissed off and my response was my attempt to get him to apologize. He didn’t.
Once, a man wrote me an email to let me know that he was praying for me. What was his prayer request? THIS IS A QUOTE: “…I pray, for your sake, that one of these days God effs you up… for your own good.”
And then there was this incident…
Shortly after my book What You Didn’t Learn From Your Parents About Sex released, a pastor in Canada began writing emails to me, my publisher, a Canadian book distributor, and all of the Christian bookstores in the province of Alberta. Why? Because of a joke I wrote about Jennifer Love Hewitt. I’m very serious. He was furious about this joke, which was odd, since it really wasn’t all that funny of a joke. After writing two emails, my publisher responded. He didn’t like their response, mainly because they told him that they weren’t going to pull all of my books off the shelves. So he wrote six more emails, one of which asked bookstores in Alberta to remove all of my books from their shelves (five agreed). But his last email—a letter of apology to Jennifer Love Hewitt—was his best work. He sent the letter to me, my publisher, AND Jennifer Love Hewitt’s agent and website manager.
His letter began with the words, “Dear Miss Hewitt, I’ve never watched any of your movies or television shows…” and then it went on to apologize to Miss Hewitt on behalf of Christianity for my book.
While I laughed some, I also wondered if I was supposed to learn something from this guy. I wrote to him. And this time I was sincere. I told him that even though he and I disagreed about humor and such, that I was certain that, if we were in the same room, we’d get along. I hoped that was true. He wrote back. And his letter to me was kind and gracious and thankful that I’d taken the time to write him. He even apologized for trying to ruin me in Canada!
Just in the last couple months, I’ve received several letters: One of them came from a woman who was irate about my acceptance of gays and lesbians. Ironically, another woman, after reading the first chapter of Hear No Evil, assumed that I hated gays and lesbians. Sometimes you can’t win. And then there was the letter I received from a “close friend.” He wrote to tell me that I was nothing more than “the Christian Perez Hilton.”
Since becoming a fulltime writer seven years ago, there’s been a lot of criticism–some of it rude, some of it crazy, some of it constructive, and on few occasions it was very heartfelt from people who truly seemed concerned about my eternal well-being.
Now, I don’t share all of this in hopes of receiving a bunch of “you are awesome” comments. This isn’t an ego-boosting post. I receive many letters thanking me for a book or my blog, and I appreciate every one of them. And God knows, I know people who receive far worse criticism than I do. And they don’t ask for it.
Yes, I admit that once in a while I ask for the criticism I receive. Not literally. But indirectly through blog posts.
I’ve received a lot of advice from people on how to handle criticism:
- “Let it go.”
- “Oh, that dude’s an ass, Matthew, don’t let him get to you.”
- “Maybe you should change what you write about, or at least, how you write about it.”
- “Aw, man, it just means you’re doing something right!”
- “Laugh it off.”
On one occasion or another, I’ve probably tried all of the advice I’ve received. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
So how do I handle criticism? It all depends. What did the critic say? Is it personal? Do I take it personal? Should I take it personal? Are they in some small way correct about me? What kind of mood am I in? Is it morning, noon, or evening? Is it a Monday or Friday? Am I on deadline? Is Elias screaming? Has Jessica read the email? Have I taken my Adderall?
All of the answers to those questions factor into the equation.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no magic formula for handling criticism. Sometimes I take it too seriously. Sometimes I don’t take it seriously enough. Sometimes it turns me into the “names” that the critics call me. On occasion the letters have caused me to break down and cry. Sometimes they cause me to pray. Sometimes they cause me to retaliate. Sometimes I laugh.
And sometimes I feel nothing at all.
I’ve had people say to me that “feeling nothing” is the way I should handle mean-spirited criticism. “Why should you give them the time of day?”
Some say that my letting people’s words get to me is self-centered or narcissistic. And perhaps they’re right in certain situations. But I’m human. I’m emotional. I’m passionate. I want people to like me sometimes. I don’t need everybody to like me. And I certainly don’t work toward getting everybody to like me. However, to not hurt or feel something when people critique me isn’t “me.” And while I refuse to let other people’s feelings about me define who I am. I sometimes must feel their words.
Because not feeling their words can sometimes make me prideful. Sometimes not letting them hurt or piss me off can make me a little narcissistic. Sometimes it can lead me toward ignoring all forms of criticism, even the good kind from people who love me and desire the best for me. And I need those people’s guidance in my life. I don’t want to get to a place where I simply ignore criticism.
Because the truth is, sometimes I am f*cking idiot. And once in a while it takes another f*cking idiot to remind me of that. And yeah, I’m guilty of loving and accepting gay people. And sometimes I need a mean-spirited Christian woman to remind me why. And sometimes I need a jerk to put me in my place… if for nothing else, to remind me that I don’t need everybody to like me or like what I do…
And yes, I did write a not-all-that-funny joke at the expense of Jennifer Love Hewitt. But she made I STILL Know What You Did Last Summer, and I think that makes us even.