Mary wants to be a writer. She is 19 and already a good one. Her literary influences are Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and the immutable Samuel Clemens.
But when Mary published some of her first writings online, several of her college peers returned her efforts with the following comments:
“What the heck did I just read?” Only the commenter didn’t use the word “heck.”
Another commenter: “This has a lot of misspellings, learn to proof.”
And: “Nah thanks.”
Whatever that means.
So a saddened Mary emailed me asking for my opinion about the issue of negativity in the modern world. And I’m glad she did because Mary and I actually have a lot in common.
Like Mary, I also admire many classic authors. In fact, one of my primary literary influences is Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side.” I’m also a veteran when it comes to mispeling wurds.
The first thing I’d like to say, Mary, is that no matter how adult you feel, when people throw rotten tomatoes at your proverbial theater stage, it hurts.
There are a LOT of grumps out there, and as a writer you’re going to meet them all. And you’ll constantly be asking yourself the question: “Who carries rotten vegetables to a theater?”
But no sooner will you have posed this question than some irate commenter will remind you that tomatoes are fruits not vegetables.
One of the first writings I ever had published by a newspaper was a piece I went to great lengths researching. I traveled to a distant town, interviewed residents, and painstakingly sampled the local beer.
For me, it was a dream gig. The most fun I’d ever had. The pay was squat, I covered my own travel expenses, but I loved it. What I produced was a feel-good story. Granted, it wasn’t Bill Shakespeare, but it wasn’t that bad.
Do you know what happened when the story ran? Well, if you guessed that the newspaper started getting hate mail, you’d be right. Not a bunch of mail, mind you, but a few letters. Yes! Paper letters! People actually took the time to handwrite their unhappiness. Apparently I had misspelled the name of a local place and the commenters were mad about it.
I was so crushed I had a stomach ache for days. But the editor wasn’t bothered. Instead he shirked it off and said: “Welcome to the Age of the Internet, man. People’re just mean.”
Another time I had a humor piece published by a small magazine and a few days after it was “out there” I started receiving ugly messages from a lady in West Virginia. She didn’t like the religious jokes. She went so far as to call me—I am not making this up—the Antichrist.
Which was news to me. Immediately, I raced to the bathroom mirror to look for goat horns and forehead tattoos. All I found was buck teeth and a face that was perfect for radio.
This woman still heckles me from time to time. It’s been a while since her last email. But I predict that tomorrow she’ll be back in the saddle.
The hard truth is that the world is crankier. I wish I could say that negativity eventually quits bothering you, but it doesn’t. You spend days, hours, years, sometimes decades around negative people, and it never stops bugging you.
I say all this because I wish someone would have told me about the haters in this world before the doctor pulled me from the womb. Because if you’re not careful, all this negativity can mess up your life.
Negative remarks damage your brain in ways that aren’t even fully understood by science. There is solid research behind this. Biologically speaking, bad comments hit your brain harder than good ones.
The effects of unkind remarks are more easily digested by your neurons than friendly remarks. One study even found that for each bad comment you receive it takes—get ready—five positive comments to outweigh it. That’s a 5:1 ratio. Or is it 1:5? Or perhaps 5=π?
I’m no math jockey, but the research is saying that for every handful of weisenheimers who says, “You suck!” it takes a roomful of people saying, “No you don’t!” to make you feel better.
But alas, Mary, I believe the newspaper editor was correct. Negativity is the hottest trend. It’s everywhere. It’s cheap. And rampant.
Disturbing news items go viral while stories about building homes in Third World countries remain unliked. Many cannot even buy a bag of Cheetos without leaving a negative review online.
In fact, when I was researching for this column I visited a major online bookseller’s website to do some looking around. I did a quick search for a specific book. To my delight, several people have reviewed this particular book.
I thought I’d leave you with a few glowing reviews I found:
“I really hated this book. Really odd style of writing, I was lost from the first page to the last… Don’t bother.”
“Yeah, I know this is supposed to be a great work… But I really think it sucks. I could not help but be irritated… This is not an adventure it is a tragedy.”
“…Part of my dissatisfaction with the novel comes from this ‘bad boy’ approach… The overly-pleased tenor of the narrative voice was largely lost on me.”
“…A ok book. it didn’t explain things to well in the begging. It should of alaborated more!! I know that the story could have been even better!!”
“Meh. Just okay.”
“Never even heard of this author? Pass on this one.”
And in case you were wondering, the book these people reviewed was “Tom Sawyer.”