WoW #4: Handling Controversy and Criticism
This is the fourth week of my Writing on Wednesday (WoW) posts where I share the transcript of a recent writing vlog. You can check out the full video series: here, and you can read previous posts in my transcript series:
- WoW Week One: Writing Advice
- WoW Week Two: Updates, Bookplates, & Yellowjackets
- WoW Week Three: Return to Writing
This week’s video was first posted March 23, 2022, and it’s titled: Handling Criticism and Controversy. You can watch the video below or read the lightly edited transcript beneath.
Hello, I am Amanda Hocking, and I’m here with my chinchilla, Gruber. Recently, I posted a short video of Gruber, and I got some questions about him so, I thought it would be fun to incorporate him into the video. I know not many people have experiences with chinchillas.
Usually when I take him out of his cage, and we’re chilling together, his favorite thing to do is sit behind my neck or on my shoulders. He does a little bit of exploring, but he most just likes to sleep around my neck. Sometimes, he likes to curl up on my chest, but that’s not very often.
He also has very distinct moods, and sometimes he’s in a mood for a cuddle, and other times he is not.
Gruber is a four-year-old domestic chinchilla. If you’re not familiar, chinchillas are so mammals from the rodent family. They seem more like rabbits than hamsters to me, but I think they’re actually a type of ground squirrel almost. Like hamsters and most rodents, chinchillas teeth never stop growing, so they always have to have things to chew on to help wear them down. Dental care is one of the biggest issues that rodents have to deal with in general.
Chinchillas are originally from Chile in South America. They lived in the Andes Mountains, where their incredibly dense fur helped them thrive in chilly temperatures.
That is the reason that actually became domesticated. They have the densest fur of any land mammal. Most mammals have one hair per follicle, but chinchillas have fifty hairs per follicle. Their fur is very thick and plush, like a velvety stuffed animal, and they were brought to America to be bred for the fur industry.
Because of the density of their fur, they can’t get wet. If water gets down to the roots, it doesn’t dry, and they can become moldy and have a little of issues. To keep clean, they use dust baths, which helps remove the oils and debris from their fur.
In the wild, they live in large groups, and they are very social. They like to talk a lot, and they made distinct sounds and have clear communications to express their moods and wants.
Gruber makes a very grumpy chirp when I do something he doesn’t like (usually touching anywhere near his backend, most chinchillas don’t like that). He also has contended noises when we’re cuddling, and he makes a cute kind of cooing chirp in his cage when he wants attention or wants to play.
Gruber has had some aggression with male chinchillas, so that is why he is an only chinchilla, but it is generally recommended that chinchillas live in pairs or small groups up to three or four. They are large rodents, so they need very substantially sized cages, and the more chinchillas that are kept together, the larger the cage should be.
Gruber was on my first chinchilla. I have always wanted one, but I was unsure about getting one because they are an exotic pet. They are one of the least exotic pets, I would say, because they are relatively common, and they aren’t overly difficult to care for. They need cooler temperatures, large cages, dust baths, and they do have strict diets.
Gruber loves treats, especially apple sticks and oats. Treats do need to be given very sparingly to chinchillas, because they are prone to obesity and diabetes. All of their favorite treats tend to relatively high in sugars, and they need a diet very low in sugar. I feed Gruber Oxbow chinchilla pellets and timothy hay every day, and he gets sticks frequently to chew on.
Chinchillas can also be very destructive (they love to chew!), but I have been really fortunate with Gruber. He only really chews on the wooden toys and treats he’s supposed to, which is great.
Gruber is relatively young at only four-years-old, because they can live ten-fifteen years or more in captivity. He’s just such a happy little guy, and I hope that he lives for a very long time.
Chinchillas make good pets for older teens and adults, but they are so fragile and jumpy that I would not recommend them for younger children. They are mostly quiet and don’t really stink, but they create a lot dust and fur. They also have a long life expectancy for a rodent, and they have very specific dietary requirements.
Initial cost for adopting a chinchilla can be rather high because of their large cages and the cost of the animal itself, but the monthly maintenance costs are very low. They also do require a vet who specializes in exotics and small animals, because they have specific healthcare needs, especially with their teeth and their propensity for diabetes.
So onto my writing advice for today. There has been come controversy happening on Twitter. (There’s always controversy happening on Twitter, lol). It has me thinking about writers need to learn how to respond to reviewers and appropriate ways to interact with people who have read your book, with they be fans or critics or anything in between.
As an author, it can be really easy to have a knee-jerk reaction if you read something critical about your book. You work so hard on something, and it’s so personal. Even when you know that you’re making this book be commercially sold, writing is still so incredibly personal.
When you’re publishing a book, you’ll always have other people working on it, whether you’re self-publishing or with a traditional publisher. You’ll have editors, marketers, beta readers, sometimes even cover artists. Other people will read your book and offer feedback that, hopefully, makes it better.
But actually writing the book is still largely a solo activity. You singularly built this world inside your head, and so it can be really hard not to take it personally when someone says, “Well, this world sucks.”
Just to be clear, it is totally okay to be hurt by reviews. At times, reviews can even feel like pointed attacks, and I have read plenty of reviews – on books and movies in general – that are blatantly mean. That is okay to be hurt by those reviews, and even the ones that aren’t mean.
But the number one thing you need to do when that happens is that you need to grieve and rage about it in private. It can’t be something that you go online and publicly vent about, and you should never, ever interact negatively with a reader or critic.
Unless of course they are being abusive – using slurs or making threatening remarks. In that case, still don’t engage with them, but you should report them.
Otherwise, you basically just have to accept that that’s how they feel. Because that’s the bottom line. People are entitled to feel how they feel, and all forms of media – books, movies, music, tv shows – elicit feelings from the person consuming them.
The thing, too, about reviews is that they say something about the thing their reviewing, but they also say a lot about the person reviewing them. The reviewers bring in their own biases, baggage, and moods into it.
Sometimes, if the readers baggage matches yours, you can really strike a chord with them, and you can really make sense to them. That’s your reader, that’s the person you’re writing for.
But there are still going to be people who read your books, and it just doesn’t mesh with them. They might have valid criticisms, they might just have personal quibbles. The point is that your book just isn’t for them.
If they do reviews, they are going to explain why your book isn’t for them, and that’s also okay. You just have to learn to accept it.
Do not attack them. Do not call them names. Do not harass them or call them out on social media, not in any capacity. People are allowed to not enjoy the things you create, and that’s a huge bummer, but that’s just how life is.
If you are someone who wants to have a career in the public life – well, even if you don’t necessarily want, but in being a writer you are in the public life – you need to treat everything you say online as if the public will see it. Even if it’s just in an email or any kind of private correspondence, all of it can easily go public these days.
I always caution you to be very careful ranting about book reviews or readers or anything like that online. That needs to be done in the privacy of your home with the person you trust the most.
I’m not saying that you are not allowed to have private thoughts or private feelings. But I am saying that unfortunately, right now, nothing online ever truly is private. You do need to cautious about what you’re doing and saying.
I have kind of talked about this before, but I really feel like every word I put out there, I have to be able to defend. So every choice I make, I have to be able to explain it.
If people say something I am saying or said is objectional, then I am going to make changes when I can and when I think it’s appropriate.
There is some sexism in the My Blood Approves series. I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to edit it. But it has felt disingenuous to change it. I mean, it is an idea that I really struggle with.
Because now I’ve done the Virtue re-release, but that was different. I knew I wanted to expand on the world, but when I re-read it, I saw the fat-shaming, sexism, and other weird stuff I had in there, and I needed to unpack it and remove it if I wanted to continue in the world. That’s why I did the re-release of Virtue. I couldn’t stand by the choices I had made ignorantly in the past, and I couldn’t build a world on them.
But in the past, if I had thought about the choices I was making more critically then, really questioned why I was being so gross and shaming to characters I liked, characters who were kind and didn’t deserve it, and I might have become more aware of the internalized bias and prejudices that I had. Maybe I would’ve felt better about myself sooner.
It is hard for people to see their own biases. We can have a blindspot for faults and prejudices, but it I something that I am working on.
me to see because the blind spot i have
Defending the choices I make in turn makes me make wiser choices. If I decide to make a character fat, for example, and I ask myself why. If the answer is because there are fat people in the world, and I want to show them having full lives and going adventures, then I am going to make a more conscious effort of having that character be someone who just happens to be fat but also has a full-life. As opposed to in the past, where I would make a character fat because I wanted to compare the character to thin main characters, to use them as a negative to show how someone else was positive.
I was never thinking these as conscious thoughts. I mean, I’ve always been fat, and I wasn’t thinking, “Let’s be mean to this fat character as an expression of your own self-loathing.” But I wasn’t questioning why I was doing it. I wanted to make my main character look good, and I didn’t question why I chose a fat person to do that.
This is what I mean by questioning your choices and defending your work. But to do that, it is important that you understand why you write the way you do. Especially in this day in age, people are going to question your choices, and you should have the answers.
It’s helped me with my internalized body-hating, which was something I needed to work on for myself and for others. I don’t want to be someone who feels that way about myself, and I especially don’t want to be someone who treats other people like they’re “less than” just because of their body.
As a young adult author especially, it’s just so important to me that I am really thinking about how my words can affect my audience that’s reading it. Because some of these people are very young teenagers, and so I have to be sure that I am not reinforcing things that will be harmful to them. I don’t want to do anything that will make my readers hate themselves or other people.
Ultimately, we have to share this world all kinds of people, and I think that the world is better when we’re kinder to ourselves and each other.
Gruber is getting sick of me talking, so I think I’ll be wrapping things up here. But for general updates on me, I just want to talk about Book #2 in the Seven Fallen Hearts series. It’s going really well, but I don’t have any dates yet. Things are moving forward, and I’m getting back into the habit of making videos. I’m having fun, though, and I hope you are, too.
If you have any questions about writing, my books, chinchillas, or anything at all really, feel free to ask, and I will try to answer them in later videos.
I enjoy this time talking to you all, and I hope that you enjoy it, too. I just want to say thank you again for watching.
Until next time, stay safe, be kind, and happy writing.
Read on in the next post, WoW #5: Storytelling and Dreaming Big