Why I stay away from feedback
In the Opinionated Age, it's certainly not easy to write opinions for a living
Don’t be upset, dear reader, but I really don’t care what you think of my columns. Strike that. You can be upset if you wish. That’s fine with me.
In the days when I had thinner skin, your opinion of my writing left a deep impact on my psyche. I still get writer’s block when I remember the time one reader told me to stop referencing Babyjaan in my writing because nobody cared. Recently, after I wrote what I thought was a well-reported column on an important issue, one faithful reader messaged: This one was good and all, but I miss your Babyjaan columns.
I still remember the time several years ago when someone thought I was being arrogant because I said in a passing reference that I wore a size small. Occasionally, people will helpfully point out that I’ve lost my polemical voice, or that my writing is not nuanced/thoughtful enough, sometimes both in the same week.
Why is a liberal columnist like me writing feel-good stories about the military? Why didn’t I ignore the LGBT perspective? Why are my heroes not the same as yours? What happened to my rants? (This column is dedicated to those who have asked me the last question, though I don’t care what you think either.)
Now that I have the skin of a rhinoceros, courtesy seven years of your non-stop feedback on Twitter, I’ve finally stopped worrying about reactions to my work. This doesn’t mean that I don’t take my responsibilities as a columnist seriously. My duty is to deliver work of a certain, consistent standard, on time and to the best of my ability. The space I get every week allows me the latitude of provoking you, dear reader. In addition, I hope I’m someone whom you can trust, whose work you occasionally find entertaining or informative, whose absence you might notice. I guess it’s good if my column makes you think, starts a conversation—as long as you’re not tagging me in it.
Most weeks I work hard on my column, though I must say I’ve noticed that you, perversely, seem to enjoy my lazy columns a little more. Before I send my column to the editor, I send it to two writers-in-arms. Feedback is speedy, specific and brutal. Changes made and column sent, I start worrying about the next one. By the time you read my column, I’ve moved on.
I know I’ll never win Miss Congeniality, but I’m fed up of scanning my column every week to ensure it doesn’t have that one sentence everyone will be distracted by and debate to death on social media.
Boyfriends make good girlfriends too, I was told multiple times after my ode to female friendships last week. Maybe they do for you. Most of my male friends crashed and burned along the way. They became people who forward sexist marriage jokes on WhatsApp and peddle everyday racism. My girlfriends, on the other hand, grew with me. I had included a rider about men, but I guess you skipped that part.
It’s okay if you don’t agree with what I say. Or if you agree. Or if you agree with 400 of my 950 words, and feel irritated by the remaining. I’m just glad someone invented emojis. They’re perfect for when you don’t want to respond to feedback with words.
The abuse on social media has already killed my political column writing self. I’m ashamed to admit I now avoid writing the national anthem column or the mad cow phenomenon column. I’m hoping that staying away from your feedback will get me back on track. Why do you think so many columnists stay away from social media?
I’m inspired by Harinder Baweja, who recently wrote an opinion piece in Hindustan Times about army chief General Bipin Rawat’s comments on Kashmiris. Then she sat back calmly and ignored the hundreds of abuses on her Twitter timeline. “We live in the age of trolls. I’ve grown a thick skin," she says. Presstitute, paid media, Pakistani, jihadi are all words that have lost their power to hurt most journalists.
In the Opinionated Age, it’s certainly not easy to write opinions for a living. I’ve always believed my readers are more informed than me. Finding ways to engage them has been a personal challenge these past two decades. But now I know this concern for my reader can only be detrimental to my writing.
How do people create anything in a time where everyone is a critic? Enough studies have shown that too much feedback can hamper performance, especially when it makes you ask yourself how good you are instead of asking yourself how you can improve at the task at hand.
At The Huddle, a conclave organized by The Hindu group in Bengaluru recently, film-maker Karan Johar said on a panel that he has a legal team that goes through every film (including song lyrics, title, dialogues) to ensure there won’t be a backlash from The Republic of Hurt Sentiments. He avoids film scripts he thinks will trigger a controversy.
I asked another popular film-maker how he creates in the age of excessive feedback. “You can’t," he replied simply. “It’s too difficult." He added that he now mostly avoids feedback.
In the days when I used to write about stock markets and nationalism, I would unfailingly get a two-word reader response: good article. My father never varied his SMS; on weeks when the subject didn’t interest him, he just kept quiet. Now that’s the kind of feedback I can live with.
Priya Ramani shares what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable