Dazed and Confused: How a Troll Review Improved my Writing (Part 2 of the ‘Labyrinth’ Series)


Being a writer can be one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences. We write something clever, or moving, or terrifying and then sit back to wait for the responses. “Awesome job, man!” or “Oh my goodness, that was soooo scary!” are all things we crave to hear. Only what happens when we get a review where the person hates what we’ve written? And not only do they hate it but they let us know in the meanest way possible?

Yes, I am talking about the Troll Reviewer (or commenter). You know, the one we all secretly fear but will likely encounter at one point in time. There are a lot of articles out there about how to deal with harsh reviews, and most of the ones I’ve read are quite good and helpful. In my opinion, though, they often deal with the ‘head’ aspect, the thinking behind the appropriate response. But what do we do about how we feel? Isn’t the main reason those reviews or comments are so difficult to shrug off because they hurt?

I decided to write this article (which is based on my opinions and experiences, I’ll hasten to add) is because I believe that responding properly to a tough review involves both the head and the heart. I’ve written before about the fact that when we write, the end product is extremely personal to us. Some even consider it their ‘baby’ or a piece of their own soul, so of course mean and rude comments will feel like salt burning its way through a wound. So how do we get from the point of feeling crushed to the point of accepting the review for what it is–someone’s opinion of our work–and moving on?

The first time I was Trolled, I felt mortified. Horrified. I sat up in the middle of the proverbial road, looking around in confusion for the train which had just stream-rolled over me. I remember thinking, “Is it possible my book is that bad?” Once I got up and dusted myself off, it took a long time to get my head back on straight. I don’t remember if I actually cried or not, but if I didn’t I was probably close to it. I couldn’t understand how someone could so flippantly belittle my work and all the effort I put into it. I knew not everyone would love everything I wrote, but I had expected people to be respectful in how they let me know. I certainly hadn’t expected to be lambasted!


In truth, I should have seen it coming. On the writing site where the book is uploaded, I had received polite reviews which mentioned some of the problems with it, and even my writing buddy had tried to warn me: “You write really well, but the story builds really slowly. Some readers might like that but just know you might lose some (readers) because of it.” “Yeah, uh-huh,” I’d said, “but this is how I want the story to read. This is my vision for it.”

Fatal last words. I came to see that, often, when we hold so tightly to an idea or a concept that we refuse to change it despite evidence we should, we can expect it to come back to haunt us. Though it hurt, I reread that Troll Review a few times. The thing is, I started to see that, despite its obnoxious packaging, the reviewer was actually speaking the truth. Her comments jived with what my writing partner and the other polite reviewers had told me but which I had refused to accept. So, I had a choice to make: continue to bemoan how I was treated and ignore what turned out to be good feedback…or swallow my pride. I chose to drink a big glass of milk to help that bitter pill go down, then I sat down, reconsidered the story…and then wrote the hell out of it. Many times. It was my first book, so it needed a lot of work, but I was determined to show myself–and everyone else–that I could do it. In other words, I transformed that negative situation into a positive one which I then used to my advantage.

Still, we have to be careful. Not every Troll Review is useful. But then neither are all the fluff reviews and feedback we can also get. Every piece of feedback has to be scrutinized and broken down so we can see what is useful and what is not. My point is that just because something is said in a rude way doesn’t mean we should ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ Take a deep breath, read it and reread it until you can see past the crap to whatever nuggets of gold might be hidden underneath it. Then wash them off and write the hell out of your story.

Years later, I can look back on that experience and be grateful for it, even for the pain it brought, since that’s what it took to get me to ‘wake up and smell the coffee.’ Do I wish to live that again? Heck, no! But I have to admit that, in this case, I believe my stop in Dazed and Confused Land had its place on my road to becoming a better writer, and just maybe, it can for you, too.

14 thoughts on “Dazed and Confused: How a Troll Review Improved my Writing (Part 2 of the ‘Labyrinth’ Series)

  1. Great post Dyane, sometimes we need the Troll review to hit home what we are doing wrong. I have great admiration at the way you handled it. We learn from every review and we should take the feedback on board. At the end of the day it is a big world out there and not everyone is going to like what we write. Be true to you xx


    1. Thx Yolanda. 🙂 These are tough life lessons which have the power to develop our character, if we let them. Being hit in the emotions is hard to shake off, but it can be done. Having a good support network helps, too.


  2. Wow, tough lesson to learn. Personally, I expect rave reviews, flowers strewn at my feet and ticker-tape parades on the day I launch my first book, while all the trolls quaver under their bridges.

    Unfortunately I suspect the reality will be closer to yours and my dreams will be crushed underfoot without notice, but hey, at least I know who I can come to for some empathy!

    Congrats on seeing the positives and actually turning a troll review into something useful. I’m sure a bazooka would have made you feel better a lot faster, but ‘dem’s da breaks’.


    1. Lol A bazooka in one hand and a grenade in the other, Chris! Lol And I’ll be sure to send flowers to your house on the day of your launch! Seriously, we know we should expect those kinds of reviews but nothing can prepare you for what it’s like to actually get one. Having a great support system in place (and heavy artillery!) really does help.


    1. Fantastic! So glad you enjoyed it, Suzan, and passed it on. That definitely helps make that experience even more worthwhile; the thought of someone else benefitting from it. 🙂


  3. Hello, it`s much the same in the art world hurts like hell when you get rejected but makes you stronger hopefully 🙂 You and me have been paired up in Stories and pictures, mines the photo of the chair in the sea. Hope it`s inspirational just thought i`d say hi, hi 🙂


    1. Hi! It’s nice to meet you. Glad you stopped by to get to know me a little through my blog. 🙂 yours is a great picture and I can’t wait to chat with you about it.
      I can only imagine what it’s like in the art world; people can be do quick to criticize.


  4. I don’t like negative reviews, but I’m willing to consider what they have to say, as long as they are honest reader responses to the work, even if they are harsh or mean.

    I try to make a distinction between those kinds of reviews, which are perfectly valid, if disappointing, and true troll reviews, which are malicious or written from an ulterior motive and which don’t reflect a reader’s honest response to the work. I’ve had my share of both kinds.


    1. Hi J.D. 🙂 It’s true that often true troll reviews are really more about the person ‘talking’ and feeling good about being cleverly mean than giving actual commentary on the book or story. It is important to make that distinction.
      The other thing I have come across, is one time I got a harsh review from someone, and after I politely wrote him back, he responded with an apology because he admitted he had read chapters while distracted and without giving them his full attention. I’m happy this guy was able to admit that, as not every one can/does.


    1. That’s true. Figuring out how to take and apply comments and reviews (or not) can be very tricky. Thx for reading and commenting. 🙂


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