Anonymous asked: Hey Cord, I'm a freelance writer transitioning from safe, sterile marketing copy into the more editorial, opinionated, long-form side of things. I know I'll channel a lot of my own perspective into the words I write, and I realize I'll probably incite anger or irritation somewhere along the way. I love your writing and share most of your viewpoints, so I'm wondering: how do you deal with it when you've seriously pissed people off? Is there a phrase or mindset that brings you back to center?
I can’t believe I’m about to quote fucking Ricky Gervais, but here is an important thing to remember if you’re going to start putting your opinions on the internet for money: “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re in the right.”
One of the most frustrating things about writing for the internet is how often you’re exposed to the fact that the Default Demeanor Setting online seems to be seething outrage. Depending on the topics you choose to discuss, I imagine you’ll find pretty quickly that there are entire groups of people reading things in bad faith seemingly in order to get angry about what they just read and gin up fury in the comments section or on Twitter. You need to let that stuff slide off your back, which is very hard to do, especially when you’re just starting out and especially when the attacks become personal (I’ve had people question my authenticity because of the lightness of my skin and say that they bet I don’t have any black friends). “Wow, maybe I am an awful piece of shit,” you may start to think to yourself. In those times remember: Just because someone is mad at you doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong.
Things get even more difficult when sometimes, amid all the anger, there will be someone who actually has a very good and rational dissenting opinion about what you’ve written. Figuring out how to distinguish between the lunatics who just want to scream at you and the people who want to talk to you and improve your worldview to make the world better can sometimes be hard when sifting through the comments on a piece, particularly because getting yelled at by a lot of strangers can make you hypersensitive and temporarily unable to think clearly. There’s no perfect way to go about this, but my friend and former colleague Ann Friedman devised a handy chart that may help. Another quick rule of thumb is this: Whenever someone who disagrees with me writes me an email or calls me on the phone, I always see that as an act done in better faith than a person delivering 10 points of contention at me via 140-character bits on Twitter, making sure to put a period in front of my name so that everyone can see that they disagree with me. (To be fair, there are a lot of people I respect and think are smart who use Twitter as a debate forum, but I just can’t fathom ever doing that and not feeling indulgent/embarrassed.)
Anyway, one way to avoid a lot of this headache is to keep in mind that you don’t have to have an opinion about things, even major news stories. I know it sounds crazy, but you really don’t. In a world in which rapid content production has become the name of the game, churning out opinions about everything in culture is now some people’s meal ticket, which has led to a lot of half-baked op-eds that look very silly in retrospect—I know this because I’ve written some myself, and they’re always regrettable. If you don’t really care about something, or if you don’t feel comfortable writing about it, don’t write about it, because if you do you’re going to feel foolish when the internet shows you just how many people care very deeply about this opinion you formulated 15 minutes before sitting down to write it out.
Good luck, friend. Freelancing is hard. I hope you do great.