Before Putting Your Work on a Public Forum, Decide on the Rules of Engagement

Image Credit: Red Bubble

Somebody recently left a real face-palm of a question (read: stupid) on one of my stories on Medium.

Normally I would say there are no stupid questions, but if the question being asked can be answered by actually reading the post, then yes, it is stupid.

Here was the comment (I took a screenshot before deleting it):

I'm not going to unpack that comment; you all can interpret it however you like because there are so many delicious layers of dumb.

If I had chosen to answer that person's question, my response would have been "Yes." I would never add a picture to a post that isn't related in some way to the content. That particular post is long, and the way the picture relates to the content is revealed at the end. If you read the post, you win the prize and get to have  your question answered. If you don't want to read it, that's fine, but then you don't get to know.

However, because of my personal Rules of Engagement, I didn't respond.

I'm not here to vent about stupid people on the internet, because let's face it, unless you've been living under a rock, you already know there are a lot of tin-foil-hat people out there. Online forums and comment sections are like catnip for the Karens of the world; they just cannot resist.

Because I'm well aware of all of the above, I had to make decisions about my "rules of engagement" prior to beginning to post my work more publicly on various platforms. (I would recommend this to every single person who puts their work out into the world.)

So that we're all working from the same definition:

rule of en·gage·ment: a directive issued by a military authority specifying the circumstances and limitations under which forces will engage in combat with the enemy.

Image Credit: Sander Sammy on Unsplash

I had to define for myself under what circumstances I would engage with the comments section about any of my work. I mentally played out all scenarios in my head; respond to all comments, respond only to positive comments, ignore all negative comments, etc.

I was struggling to find my rules of engagement, until I asked myself: "Why am I here? What am I hoping to accomplish through my writing and why have I chosen to put it on a public forum?"

When we ask ourselves what our END GOAL is, it helps us define the actions that will take us closer or further away from that goal.

My answers:

Why am I here?

Because I need a mentally creative outlet, and I really enjoy writing and riffing on ideas. I have a lot of physically creative outlets (like baking, exercise, etc.) but I also need a mentally creative outlet and this works.

What am I hoping to accomplish through my writing?

As Joan Didion said: "I don't know what I think until I write it down." I have ADD and always have a million ideas going through my head, so writing helps organize the chaos.

To modify the above quote slightly, I also "don't know what I feel until I write it down." Writing helps me identify my feelings. When I feel internally overwhelmed, I know I need to "talk" things out.

Also, my writing entertains me. I used to write because I thought I wanted to help people. Now, after reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Big Magic, I write because it's FUN for me.

"Whenever anybody tells me they want to write a book in order to help people, I always think, Oh, please don't. I mean, it is very kind of you to want to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls...

...It’s okay if your work is fun for you, is what I’m saying. It’s also okay if your work is healing for you, or fascinating for you, or redemptive for you, or if it’s maybe just a hobby that keeps you from going crazy. It’s even okay if your work is totally frivolous. That’s allowed. It’s all allowed. Your own reasons to create are reason enough. Merely by pursuing what you love, you may inadvertently end up helping us plenty..."

Image Credit: MI PHAM on Unsplash

Why have I chosen to put it on a public forum?


Even though I love writing and I do it for myself, there's something about putting it on a public forum that makes me hold myself accountable to 1 - producing the work in the first place and 2 - challenging myself to put out the best possible product I am capable of at that moment in time, in case anyone does read.

My goal is to WRITE; it isn't to get people to READ. If they do, fine, but it's not the goal. It's sitting down to do the work that's the goal.

In the process of making creative work, we cannot control who sees it and how they respond to it, but we can control our outputs; we can sit our asses down and do the work we've committed to doing.

I'm not an influencer (gag) and I have no aspirations to be one. I also have nothing to sell; no products, no courses, no coaching sessions.

Image Credit: Bored Panda

As I wrote on the About section of my website "I'm not here with the intention to convince anybody of anything; I have no skin in the game with regards to changing anybody's mind about the way they think or live. I'm here for me; because I need to trust myself to show up and do the work I've been called to do for a lifetime, but have been running away from for a long time."

I am only here to do my work; writing helps me fulfill some of my potential which is why I do it.

If I were to begin engaging with the comments section, in any way at all, it would be a distraction from just doing the work.

Therefore, based on all of the above, my Rules of Engagement are:

1 - Never respond to ANY comments, whether positive or negative.

It's easier this way because I'm not using any of my mental space to debate whether I should or shouldn't respond, or what I should say if I do answer.

One response - no response - to rule them all.

2 - Whenever possible, delete negative comments.

Respectful discussions about opposing viewpoints are fine and even encouraged, but negativity or stupidity isn't.

If any of the work I do starts a conversation, that's alright, but I'm not interested in engaging in that conversation because it will distract from doing the work. The people can feel free to "talk amongst themselves."

Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world" and I want to be and see people lifting each other up. If you can't do that, you don't get a voice on my platform.


If you like my writing and want to follow me: fine.

If you don't like my writing and don't want to follow me: fine.

I'm only here to do the work of expressing myself. I grew up in an abusive household and my voice was silenced; my writing is the way I'm honouring my voice. 

I don't care who listens to me because I'm listening to myself; I'm validating my own voice. And that's good enough for now.

Because I know this, I've made a conscious choice not to engage in any way with the comments about my work; I've defined my Rules of Engagement.

I strongly recommend that you define your own rules; it will make putting yourself and your work out there easier.

A public battle never ends well because it always turns into a dumpster-fire and inevitably makes everyone involved look stupid. No one comes out of it looking like the better person.

Image Credit: NBC

It's easier not to engage because if you give people enough rope, they'll eventually hang themselves with it.

You just have to patiently sit back and watch.

Well, opinions are like assholes, honey. Everybody's got one and everybody thinks everybody else's stinks.

Henry Larson: Home for the Holidays

Image Credit: Vox


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