A Comment On Anxiety
Posted on July 18, 2021 Posted by Athena Scalzi 44 Comments
Back in the summer 2018, I wrote for the blog like I do now. For my last post of the summer, I mentioned that I felt bad I never responded to anyone’s comments the entire time. I proceeded to say that if I could do it over, I would’ve responded more. Yet, it’s been almost a year now since I started writing on here again, and I have yet to respond to anyone’s comments.
I constantly wonder why that is. I read all of them, and I get asked stuff pretty often! One would think I’d respond at least once in a while, right? As logical as that sounds, and as easy as I’m sure it would be, for some reason I can never bring myself to respond, even if I do want to answer someone’s question.
I’ve finally deduced that I have a bit of anxiety when it comes to dealing with comments. On one hand, I love them! I love that you fine readers interact with the post and like the post enough to comment on it or ask something interesting! The more comments on a post, the better in my mind. On the other hand, if I respond to one person and not someone else, will the person I didn’t respond to get upset over it? Or what if I respond and they don’t see it, and think that I ignored them?
I guess technically I could reply to everyone’s comments so I don’t feel bad about being selective or seeming like I’m picking favorites or something. But I’m not sure if it’s entirely realistic to reply to every single person all the time. But then how do I choose who I do end up replying to?
I’ve never quite understood how comments on WordPress work, anyway, so I’ve always avoided them because I think they’re weird, functionality-wise. Unlike Twitter, you can’t like, directly reply to someone, so if you want to say something back you just have to put their name in the comment that you’re posting and hope they see it? I don’t know, seems kind of like an odd way to do comments. So I’ve just never bothered to try.
But that’s really a small piece of the pie in comparison to seeming like I’m picking favorites or ignoring people. I guess in my mind it’s just better to ignore everyone and never reply, rather than reply sometimes or only to some of the people that comment. Does that make sense? Of course not! But I don’t know how to stop my brain from thinking this way.
And now that I’ve been doing it this way for so long, I feel like I can’t stop. Like I can’t just start replying to comments now out of the blue! It’s already been a year, won’t it look odd if I just start doing it? Like, “oh, why did she decide to start replying now? Couldn’t she have been doing that the past year?” Yes! I could have! Probably.
Honestly, I just feel guilty. And this is over comments of all things! Am I being a drama queen? Maybe, but how do I tell my brain to quit being difficult? I care about y’all, and I want to start replying to you, even though I haven’t before. Better late than never, right?
So, I’m making this post to hold myself accountable. If I tell you all that I’m going to do it, that’ll make me actually do it! No backing out, anxiety be damned.
I can’t promise to reply to all of you. And with my replies to comments comes my mighty mallet power. So, beware! And have a great day!
Before anyone notes it to Athena, I mentioned to her while I was editing the post that in fact WordPress allows for threaded commenting on posts, I just don’t turn it on. That’s because I want people to read all the comments before adding their own, not just one particular branch. She didn’t know that was my editorial position.
Also, as a general note, I mention that while I personally don’t worry about responding to every comment (obviously, see my comment threads), I do frequently think about the balance between letting people comment as they will and jumping in to direct conversation with my own comments, and then of course general editing.
There is a lot that goes on to make commenting here as successful as it is, basically, and if you’re not used to managing it all, I can see it being intimidating.
It sounds like you are overthinking it. Your dad responds to a few, skips a lot. I’ve never been offended. My expectation is, you’ll respond if you feel motivated and won’t if you don’t. It isn’t a big deal to me at least either way.
IF you start answering comments, ABSOLUTELY give yourself permission to respond to an occasional comment without responding to ALL the comments. Because, honestly, the innerwebs will suck you dry if you let us.
This is exactly me, except I have expanded it to not commenting or posting on social media in general. The anxiety can be overwhelming. Of course it doesn’t help that I’ve had people say “why did you leave a comment on that tweet but not my FB post?” and get genuinely upset at my callousness.
I hope your foray into interaction is a success, because I like to think it IS all about overthinking things — I’m just too scared to test the theory :)
Your post remind me of this blog entry from Neil Gaiman:
I think it applies here as well in the sense that you don’t owe us anything. I come to this site because I like your dad’s work and I find it interesting to see what the life of a popular author is like.
Recently I have also been greatly entertained by the blog entries of his daughter – I dont have any daughters of my own, so your perspective on things is pretty interesting and entertaining – and needless to say – well written!
I do not come here expecting you to respond to this or any other comments and you don’t owe me or any other reader a response unless you choose to engage. So – please continue to write – anyone who is offended by the lack of response hasn’t really learned the lesson the Neil mentions in his post!
Hopefully this comment will help you feel less obligated and anxious but please dont feel like you need to respond!
A suggestion? (And this is getting meta, a comment on a post about comments, but oh well)
Maybe every couple of weeks, or every month, you could write a post answering the commenter questions you found most interesting. That way, you could look at it almost as responding to an interview, if that alleviates your anxiety. You would also have a chance to think about and edit your responses.
Athena – I hear you. A few years back I had the opportunity to participate on a popular political blog. It was hard work, and I stuck it out for a year, but ultimately the comments caused me to quit. There were so many, espousing all different viewpoints. Most were in good faith, but some didn’t appear to be.
If I answered them all, that would take up my entire day–but I could never figure out where to draw the line.
What made things worse was that the blog owner’s philosophy was to let all comments stand except for those that were very obviously spammy or bigoted. So that didn’t help. Attacks and pile-ons were frequent, especially if you were espousing a minority view, as I was. (And so yeah, I appreciate Whatever’s moderation.)
Especially I remember one person in particular who constantly attacked my views and who, at the same time, talked openly about their emotional problems – so I really didn’t know what to do with them.
Anyhow, I guess this is all to say, I can totes understand getting anxious about comments.
On way to decide which comments to reply to: will most of the readers of the comments be interested in your answer, or just the person who commented?
If you use this criterion, maybe you can stop feeling guilty about not answering most comments. And you can stop worrying about whether the person who commented sees your answer.
I like what sbradfor says.
Back when blogs were new and exciting, and were regarded with triumphalism,
—a collection of blogger interviews and essays used a lower case in the title and ended with an exclamation mark, to show that blogs were nontraditional, called blog!—
there was a feeling that part of “Wow, now everyone will have a voice” meant that that commenters were voicing to each other in the comments, like some grand town hall meeting, and not merely responding to the blogger. Like in parliament addressing “Mr. Speaker” but actually meaning all the others in the room.
I say that to give you perspective, and to relieve some of your guilt. I for one would feel guilty and rude if I only addressed you, at least if I did so without any awareness of others, and I wouldn’t expect a personal reply.
Incidentally, something I struggle with is your father’s desire for commenters to put all their thoughts in one comment, because in meatspace I like to stop, let others contribute, and then add more points to ponder.
More on guilt: In (I think) Quaker meetings, and (for sure) in “Community Building” meetings, the expectations is “speak when you are moved, do not speak when you are not moved.” …The damage to the group from people speaking when not moved is not pretty.
Hence I have a number of checks before I comment online or reply to a comment, including, but not limited to, noticing whether I am centred and grounded.
A possible solution then for you, Athena, besides arbitrary all or nothing, is listening to your inner guide for choosing whether to respond to each comment.
I think people will sense if your heart is in the right place and thereby forgive you for a few inevitable human mistakes in your choices of whether to reply to a comment.
I think most people have been on the web long enough to realise that a) authors don’t owe us anything, and b) they get to pick and choose if they respond, who they respond to, and what they say when they do respond.
That said, it does “drive engagement”, which you have indicated directly that you enjoy. I think a moderate amount of interaction – the odd mention – would keep people coming back “more” for more (if that makes any sense). I will be honest. The main reason I am still here is because of your father. It is not that I don’t find your posts interesting (they are sometimes – and I am older than your Dad). However, they are often about things that are in my distant past – my own younger years of insecurities and anxieties – that I can barely relate to myself any more.
Anyhow, sounds like this would be a “breakthrough” for you, so I hope you get something out of the effort. Remember, you have a well trained audience who would hate to have the beacon of John’s incisive wit (or yours for that matter) beamed onto their puny rhetorical pretensions!
I have the same anxiety. Like on Facebook, I gave up saying happy birthday because what if I forget someone one day and they think I’m slighting them?
(no need toreply :) )
Respond or not. Up to you. I can’t say I noticed that you weren’t specifically because comments can get long after awhile.
Answering all comments might make sense in a small, personal venue, like a private Facebook page. But in a space like this, where the conversation is not just with the original poster but with the other posters as well, and where the comments could end up being in the hundreds… well, for me, at least, it weighs down the thread. I much prefer when the OP answers because they want to address the comment, not the commenter.
Ooh! I like Bonnie’s suggestion of choosing a couple of comments to turn into an interview/post…your version of the “reader request” kind of posts. You can set your own criteria (something that intrigued you, something you saw several people ask, something you wouldn’t have thought of yourself, third comment down…whatever!)
I’m really bad at responding to comments myself. I’m even worse at commenting on other blogs. I always feel like I have nothing to add to the conversation
My feeling: it’s perfectly all right to treat your part of this blog as a publication rather than a conversation. There are plenty of each in the world, and one’s not better than the other. No need to feel guilt if you choose to just publish your thoughts.
Most comment sections have degenerated into such cesspools that it’s not worth reading them–especially if you’re the author of the post the comments are all tagging on. There are very few web sites I will bother to read the comments on, and those that I do are heavily moderated.
I’m assuming that someone is deleting the vile, the off-topic, the non-responsive, the marketing, the trolls, and all the other comments that I’m sure Whatever receives, so we don’t see them. I’d normally say don’t even bother to read the comments on what you write, but given how well-moderated this site is that’s probably not a bad thing to do.
But none of us actually expect a response from either you or your Dad when we post something, no matter what that something is. Occasionally there will be a post on a topic, like the business or process of writing/publishing, where there will be questions on how the things covered work, and for those a response is nice. But otherwise? Don’t worry, fell bad, or feel obligated to respond.
It’s honestly never even occurred to me to expect that you’d respond to everyone’s – or anyone’s – comments. I certainly wouldn’t feel in the least slighted if something someone else said got a response from you and mine didn’t.
And I’d most definitely feel bad if I were to find that you’d decided to force yourself to participate, and then found it so stressful or so much work that you soured on posting new things for me to read and enjoy.
Nothing at all wrong with continuing not to choose to. Nothing wrong with responding to some but not others. Nothing wrong with being involved more fully in some posts and not being involved in others.
After all, WE get to decide which posts to comment in. At a bare minimum, you certainly deserve the same option!
Athena, I agree (and I think you do too) with the person who said you are over-thinking it. I’ve never had a blog but contribute to a number of my friends’ blogs regularly, and places like this occasionally. My opinion, if asked, would be this: if someone says something that strikes a chord with you and makes you want to respond, you can just stick a comment in the way your father occasionally does. Or if there is a question you think “I could answer that” or something egregious that demands to be refuted, or whatever. Don’t make a big deal, just comment. Or not, since it does seem to be making you anxious. I’m only suggesting this because you said that you want to answer.
But really, nothing said here is worth making yourself upset over, good, bad or otherwise. I think we all appreciate your contributions either way.
As a fan of the site, I can say I’m totally okay with you responding, ignoring, or malletting any of our posts as you see fit.
Start now, and see how much fun it can be!
It’s also overwhelming, especially if you get popular. For the longest time Tammy tried to keep up on fan mail on her own, and I tried to help, at least on the Internet side — but it got to be too much, so she finally hired an assistant so she could concentrate on writing.
Your normal social anxiety is exacerbated by the sheer volume of responses you get as one of your Dad’s gatekeepers. So, I don’t think most of us are surprised or concerned that you rarely, if ever, respond in the comments….
Honestly, I rarely comment, and I certainly don’t expect a reply. As a person who suffers her own share of anxiety, my advice is to do what decreases the anxiety as much as is in your control. So, if you ate super anxious about not responding, pick a reasonable number to respond to, like 5. Or, if the same questions and comments appear from several readers, you could respond in a second post. “Many people asked about …”. But I honestly wouldn’t sweat it. Your father has never responded to one of my posts. There is no obligation here.
A blogger I regularly read had a similar internal question around six months ago: if we allow comments to be “liked” then what happens if I miss liking one of them? The agony! The torture! The wanting to not accidentally hurt or belittle anyone! (which, honestly: that is substantially a good impulse, really, wanting to do no harm; this is a good thing! It just needs to not be so out of proportion to everything else that it results in bad things to either self or others.)
So, 1. you are not the only one who has some difficulty psychologically with this, and with some reason, 2. this particular venue is really not one where you could respond to all comments in a non-mechanical fashion, 3. it’s not a totally unreasonable difficulty to want to not make some people feel specifically un-special, which probably sums up to 4. don’t worry about either commenting or not commenting or very-occasionally commenting; it is fine.
(I’d also note that it’s healthy to avoid comments that are just baiting. If you vehemently disagree with something and have the impulse to correct the commenter, re-read it and assess whether the comment is likely to have been in good faith or not before bothering to respond. It is also fine to respond with “let me google that for you” in some of those cases…)
I would think it would be helpful, when a comment asks a question that would lead you to clarify something from your original post, to EITHER reply to that comment OR edit the original post with a change or a response based on the comment.
Honestly, I think the fact that comments are not threaded and there’s no way to be alerted when someone replied to YOUR comment is one of the least user-friendly think about wordpress. Sometimes I read the comments, but I almost never come back to see if anyone responded to me.
Are you in my brain? Because I overthink things like that all the time. Just so you don’t feel so alone.
Comments stressed me out so much on my own blog that I eventually removed the comment feature. I encouraged people to contact me directly instead. I got less feedback this way but it somehow felt manageable for me to write back to individuals. This is probably not an option for this blog, but I thought it might help to know that other people are also stressed out about comments!
checks for comments by Athena
Remembers Athena doesn’t owe us anything
You be you! Do whatever works for you, and you alone.
Athena, in this life, the only person you have to worry about pleasing is yourself.
Don’t fret about pleasing anyone/everyone else. It’s a fool’s errand and will only cause you anxiety.
Speaking strictly for /self (and maybe for my L key, which is trying to reproduce by fission) I would be delighted with responding to the content of comments you feel worth the bother, and optionally quote and cite the source.
Then again, I have been doing this for thirty-plus years so …
Don’t feel bad about not responding! I have no need for that kind of gratification! (But sometimes it works: I met my husband on a comments page of a You Tube video!)
In my experience, your dad only responds to really good questions or really stupid comments. Like, The Flintsones is better than Attack on Titan stupid.
Let me upvote Bonnie’s suggestion — I was thinking of something similar, although hers is much more interesting and concrete.
I’ve found that I pretty much have given up commenting on Whatever just because it feels whatever I write goes into the void. It’s good to know you actually read and appreciate them!
The more time I’ve spent on the internet, the more I’ve become convinced that responding to comments is a mug’s game.
It sucks down way too much attention and wind up being worse at saying what you meant than the original bit, which you can take your time over.
And that’s in places with reasonably civilized commentariats; if you start getting into, shall we say, a more lassiez-faire environment, it gets so very much worse.
Nobody owes anyone a reply. Screw the entitled and the haters.
While I won’t tell you to emulate your parents in all ways, it might be worthwhile to have a discussion with pops on this subject. On one hand, he is remarkably gifted at doing his best to look after his fans (something he is superb at). On the other hand, doing your best isn’t necessarily understood by the fans, and beyond that, the net can be an ugly place.
In my opinion, providing content is a pretty sweet thing on its own. If reaching out cultivates a larger fan base, that still doesn’t help you if jerks drive you to stop making content. In short, do what you feel makes you a better you. Avoid what blocks the best of you. But I don’t know you as well as others. Possibly their outside, but more educated, opinion is worth soliciting. I’m not saying you should follow this advice. Just honestly consider.
For the record, I’ve never thought you were under any pressure to reply to anyone, or even read the comments! All of mine are meant in the spirit of ‘just tossing in a couple of cents here’, and I try to do that only when I have something interesting or potentially useful to add. Totally comfortable with anyone taking or leaving my contributions here. It’s a blog by two Scalzis, and we’re halfway between fan-mail and letters-to-the-editor. Definitely no need for it to be a two-way or ongoing thing.
With that said, I sympathize. I am an aspiring novelist in my spare time, but the idea of having to receive fan mail makes me want to squirm and hide.
Athena, I’m glad you do read and enjoy the comments but remember, a lot of commenters – and I’ve done it myself – are often more interested in displaying some facet of themselves than actually interacting with either the blogger or the other commenters.
(And what percentage of visitors are read-only?)
Athena, I never noticed that you didn’t respond. I don’t always read the ccomments, don’t ofyen feel moved to comment, and even less often do I read comments which come after mine. While there may well be people who notice and keep score, you can let that go as a thing to be anxious about. Whatever you choose to do going forward, or to not do, you won’t bother most of us. One suggestion that I didn’t notice would be a genetal response from you before turning off comments. “Good input, thanks, I might try several of these. And no, imaginary poster, it’s actually 42.” Sort of thing.
You are overthinking it. I am on a website called Mylot. It’s like facebook. I don’t comment on every post I read on there. I only comment when I have something to say. If I don’t comment, I just like the post and move on. A woman on there does comment just about every post. On facebook I do the same thing.
I try to have the healthy attitude that your dad does towards blogging stuff. Whenever some misogynist creep tries to get into our comments section with garbage about being silenced if I don’t, I think, “WWSD?” (What would Scalzi do?) Mallet!
That said, we have a little blog. If we had a big blog like this one, I might just not allow comments at all. Moderating is a lot of work! Anybody who expects you to reply to every single comment is a jerk. Anybody who expects you to reply to any comments is a jerk.
And, I can’t lie, whenever I get a response from JS (so long as it isn’t a “knock it off”), I feel kind of special because he doesn’t respond to everybody or to all comments from anybody. If you want to respond to some comments and not to others, keep that in mind. You don’t have to be exclusive, but if you are, it makes each response all that much more special.
Something similar is the reason I never send birthday greetings over on F—b–k. If I send birthday wishes to A, and not to B, am I playing favorites? So, nobody gets nothin’.
Then my own birthday rolls around and a ton of people send me best wishes, and I feel terrible for not having done the same for them. You can’t win for losing, sometimes.
As an alternative, it’s possible to respond broadly, rather than individually.
If a number of comments trend toward a theme, respond to the theme. If the original post spawns a handful of competing factions, perhaps side with a particular viewpoint without specifically calling out individual commenters.
Or, obviously, stay silent and stay the course. We are the internet. We can entertain ourselves.
I do want to say this
When I reply to a post or a tweet or a FB post, I don’t do it in the expectation of a reply. I do it because the comment resonated with me in one way or another and that drove my response. if the person chooses to like or respond back, that is an added bonus
Secondly, there can be a vast number of reasons why a person might respond to one person and not another, so I don’t see that as playing favorites
Do what works for you and is comfortable for you, that is what matters
On a similar note, I have anxiety about commenting on blogs, especially this one. Never mind replying to any of my rare comments. They’re usually silly anyway. Sorry you have anxiety over this. Experience will help.
Anxiety crops up in unexpected places and ways. From my perspective, you’re fine whatever you decide. Big hugs!