Do Writers Have a Duty to Reply to the Comments?

Here’s why I say it’s complicated.

By Shannon Ashley

Ithink I’m known as a writer who often doesn’t reply to comments on my work. At least, not anymore.

In the beginning of my online writing career I did start out replying to the comments, but it became extremely overwhelming very fast.

So, I decided to honestly address the implications of expecting writers to do this.

It is much more time consuming than many people want to admit.

This past week, I received 330 comments. At least, that’s what an email with my weekly stats says.

Let’s assume it takes me about 1 minute to read each comment (although some of these are quite long). And then, let’s say it takes another minute to process what’s been said. Honestly, it will take me at least 1 final minute to formulate and type out a response.

So, we’re now talking about 330 comments which very conservatively turn into 990 minutes. As an Aspie woman who tends to think and write slowly, I have no doubt that it would probably take me longer than 3 minutes per comment, but it’s a fair starting place.

We’re talking about 16.5 hours. And suppose I suddenly became speedy and averaged 90 seconds per comment? It would still be 8.25 hours. The honest answer, however, is that I tend to move in slow motion. Replying to 330 comments a week would easily take me 20 hours to do.

It is also a mental health issue.

A lot of people talk about replying to comments as if it’s this very benign thing. I wish that were the case but it’s simply not true.

Most critical comments aren’t even critiquing the writing. Instead, they critique the writer as a person.

If I write at all anout money or success, a handful of folks will tell me that it’s “unbecoming.” According to such critics, I am always gloating. Or, I write about topics which I have no right to cover. I am a “sellout” to some of these folks.

Some stories have garnered a good deal of criticism over my weight or status as a single mom. Some have mocked my depression and suicidal ideation.

Others have gleefully threatened me. Promised that I am a failure and wash up, or told me that they are going to “report me” for whatever infraction they think I’ve committed.

Some days, it feels like the hits just keep coming. I might not even be able to read a comment in its entirety because the person blocked me after publishing their remarks.

It’s so easy to ignore just how ugly the comments can get if the incendiary ones are not happening to you. Easy to overlook the fact that such negative comments can eat away at another writer’s psyche.

Replying to the comments can make a person’s day.

When you reply to another person’s comment on your work, it can mean a lot to them. Writers known for replying to all of the comments are often beloved.

I don’t want to downplay the good effects that replies make upon the writing community at large.

Replying to the comments can be very unselfish. It’s not always for magnanimous reasons, but it certainly can set a writer apart from their peers.

I’ve heard that Mister Rogers replied to every letter he ever received. And do you know what? I deeply admire that about him.

I think I admire any writer who can consistently reply to the comments they get. And although I know it has the ability to brighten another person’s day, I still don’t believe that writers should be expected to reply because it’s supposedly respectful.

This is a relatively modern expectation.

One thing I keep hearing is that writing is a conversation with your audience and not “at” them. While I can at least follow that line of thinking, it’s filled with modern pressure that we simply don’t place upon other artists.

Why don’t we expect singers and songwriters to have a conversation with their audience? Celebrities too? Somehow, we’ve decided that writers today must do something we’ve never demanded that others do.

It doesn’t make much sense unless we simply want to turn writing into a pretentious endeavor. Perhaps, for whatever reason, some of us do.

I see an awful lot of online manifestos about what makes a “real writer.” In many of these complaints, one writer places themselves into real writer status while convicting their colleagues of being phony.

Well, I am not here to convict you. Are you writing? Then you’re a writer. Are you getting paid for any of that writing? Congratulations, you’re a professional.

Are there different levels of professional writing? Of course, but any writer who is actually writing and receiving compensation doesn’t need my accusations that they are not real writers. And honestly, you will never hear me complain about real writers versus “the fakes.”

Often, I see this effort to turn writing into an elite club and I am not here for any of that. I don’t believe in certain writers being more “pure” to the art than others.

I believe that most writers are doing the best they can. Which brings us back to the comments.

Do writers really have a duty to reply to the comments?

I’m gonna have to say no, we don’t. Nor unless we’re also claiming that a writer’s mental health and personal sanity doesn’t matter.

Artists everywhere are allowed to create art without being expected to reply. Sure, no artist can escape the realities of criticism. But that doesn’t mean that all criticism is constructive. That doesn’t even mean that constructive comments require replies.

When a writer doesn’t respond to the comments, it doesn’t mean they think they’re better than their readers or somehow above critique. It simply means that they for whatever reason have chosen to focus upon other things.

Usually, it’s their writing and simply moving forward.

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