Rad post!! (Ugh, why did I write that? Why did I use two !!s)
August 29, 2018 5:04 AM   Subscribe

I suck at commenting. How do I comment better?

I recently read all of the Metafilter comments I’ve made over the years and was mortified. They sound forced, trite and/or shrill. They sound like I’m trying really hard in a tone deaf way.

I’m a pretty severe introvert. I seriously suck at small talk, especially in high-pressure social situations. Commenting sometimes feels like small talk and a site like Metafilter feels like a massive party filled with the most interesting people I’ve ever met.

I often begin writing (or composing in my head) comments on posts that I like. But then I begin questioning my tone or the length or something else. A hundred indecisions/revisions later and I just close the browser tab without ever hitting publish. When I think of the commenter I want to be, I’m not trying to be funny or get a lot of favorites. I don’t have long stories I want to tell. The comments I want to emulate are warm and insightful — even when they’re just a couple of sentences. But my brevity feels banal.

How do you learn to be a good commenter?
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I think an important thing to consider (in life, in general) is that other people are probably judging you way easier than you judge yourself. I mean, I assume your title to this question is intended as an example of the kind of comment you have written, and I wouldn't think twice about a comment that consisted of "Rad post!!" I kind of like the enthusiasm, actually.

Even so, there certainly have been comments I have read over the years where I thought "Hmm, sounds a bit forced" or "Well that's trite" or "How tone deaf" but even so, who the fuck am I to judge? You have just as much right as anyone to post whatever kind of comments you like (assuming they are within the guidelines of MetaFilter, obviously), and given the breadth of our commentariat, I'm sure there will be some MeFites that like them, and others that dislike them, but you have no responsibility to either of them.

If you'd like an impartial person to give you some encouragement, you can MeMail me and I will find 10 great comments in your comment history within minutes, I promise you.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:16 AM on August 29, 2018 [13 favorites]

I recently read all of the Metafilter comments I’ve made over the years and was mortified. They sound forced, trite and/or shrill. They sound like I’m trying really hard in a tone deaf way.

For what it's worth, I feel (exactly) that way too. I try not to look at my past comments too much, but the times I've done that, the ones I don't remember writing often don't even feel to me like my voice at all. Sometimes they remind me of people I know and don't like!

(and yes I am editing and debating that exclamation mark)

I'd be surprised if this weren't a very common feeling. It's like how listening to your recorded voice can feel. That doesn't mean that it sounds strange or bad to other people, though. I think making (subjectively) "good" comments and making comments that you feel reflect your voice or your intended voice truly are two different things.
posted by trig at 5:20 AM on August 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

I feel a similar way, I have probably deleted more comments than I've written because I get halfway through and go "nah, this is dumb, nobody wants to read this." or "ugh, I sound like a child, delete." Plus, insightful is a very high bar! And what can seem insightful to person A may seem obvious or misguided to person B. There is nothing wrong with brevity either - my tendency is to ramble. And add lots of brackets. And go oh one more thing! Obviously we can't see your comments, but I suspect you're being far too hard on yourself.

Anyway I eventually decided to evaluate my comments by two metrics: does this accurately reflect how I feel, and is it likely to hurt anyone's feelings? If yes and no, hey, it's a fine comment, even if it's not the best comment it can possibly be.

I've also just started commenting a lot more. Now it doesn't really matter if not all my comments are winners because there are more of them, and I feel less like an outsider and more like I know the other people at this party, if that makes sense? Plus I guess there's something to be said for practice, even at internet commenting.
posted by stillnocturnal at 5:38 AM on August 29, 2018 [12 favorites]

Are you trying too hard?

My worst writing generally happens when it's forced - when I have a strong idea of what kind of thing I want to write, and I get too hung up on the idea instead of just, you know, writing what I want to say.

If you comment when you have something you want to say, you can just say that. It doesn't matter if it's a masterpiece. It's an internet comment. Writing something warm and insightful is nice, when it happens, but it doesn't have to happen in order for you to be participating here in a positive way.

(And everything others have said about our harshest judges being ourselves.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:00 AM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Perhaps not quite the answer you were expecting, but here goes. Try posting (more). The reason being: it will get you to focus on all the different kinds of comments out there. That should give you a more balanced idea of what comments look like in general, rather than the impression that everything everybody else writes is always a masterpiece.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 7:30 AM on August 29, 2018

"I just close the browser tab without ever hitting publish"

That's not a bad start, honestly. Part of being good at anything is knowing when to engage. The best hitters in baseball don't swing at every pitch; in fact, quite the opposite. Culling bad comments makes the rest of your comment oeuvre better. I start writing a lot of comments, only to delete them before posting because I realize they won't add anything to the discussion.

The question I try to ask (and again, no one is perfect at this - everyone has comments they regret) is "does this add something helpful to the discussion?" For example, there are a lot of posts (especially recommendation Asks) where another commenter has already suggested what I was going to respond. I'll start posting "yeah, nthing so-and-so, that's exactly what I was going to say!". That, to me, is a bad comment. It doesn't add anything new. I'm not helping the original poster learn anything new. I also think really hard about comments that respond to others' comments, especially when my comments are critical of theirs. "Is this a disagreement I really want to get involved in?" I'll start arguing, then realize I don't actually care about whatever random subject is being debated, and just stand back. I know Metafilter wants to promote site engagement, but sometimes non-participation is better. I only read a handful of FPPs and about half of the Asks posted in any given day, and I only comment on a small fraction of the ones I read, because I know I don't have much to offer certain people, and commenting would only take away space from those who do have something to offer them. I stick to subjects where I do have something to offer.

I read something once that people with social anxiety expect other people to be judging them, but they forget that the other people are mostly semi-narcissists. Very few people care enough about other people to actually judge them. Most of us are more concerned about our own comments being appreciated by others than about others' comments. I know I am, at least. So don't worry so much. I don't think I've ever read a comment here and thought to myself, "wow, that was banal". If nothing else, there's probably another good comment that comes after it, and so I just move on without thinking about the bad comments.

The standard advice I give to anyone who wants to communicate better is to outline what you want to say. (I outlined this comment, for example.) You can then write out your outlines in paragraph form as a topic sentence and detail sentences. This will help your comments sound better, and it can also help you spot weaknesses in your thought process.

But yeah, I agree with Rock Steady: "Rad post!!" isn't inherently a bad comment. If you read MetaTalk, you see all the discussion of threadshitting and negativity. If I posted an FPP and you commented that, it would make me happy.

It also sounds like some of it is confidence on your part. Your question implies that you don't feel as competent as other posters, to which I respond "so what?". I have a fortune cookie on my desk that says "the greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing, because you think you can do only a little". Another favorite piece of advice, from one of my favorite writers (G.K. Chesterton): "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." In that spirit, just fire away. Still heed my previous advice, but if you occasionally drop a comment that isn't outlined, or that just echoes another commenter, oh well. Better for you to err on the side of participation, in my opinion.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:34 AM on August 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

The comments I want to emulate are warm and insightful — even when they’re just a couple of sentences.

May I ask--are you favoriting those comments, so you can go back and figure out what struck you about them? Are you responding to those comments with "Thanks, that was a terrific comment"? I think that acknowledging what's good about someone else's comment can help you build a sense of your own yardstick (ooh, you are hard on yourself here. Rock Steady and trig are on to something about treating your past comments and self with a little more kindness).

As a poster, I'm happy to get any comments, and I smile when I see by the !!s that you're excited about something you read. Getting a "Rad post!!" is something I appreciate--thank you!
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:37 AM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Honestly , I would channel whatever part of you composed this question. It's got just the right tone for MeFi in that it's conversational, informative, and gets to the point of your dilemma. Tone is the hardest thing to read and/or convey in text, but you've done just fine right here, right now, so you can do it!
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:32 AM on August 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I always liked the advice Jeffrey Eugenides gives about writing:
I sometimes tell my students that, when you write, you should pretend that you're writing the best letter you've ever written to the smartest person you know. That way, you won't pander at all. You won't put on a false face because your smart friend would spot that in a minute. Also, with this method, you naturally gain an intimacy, even a shorthand with which to communicate.
I think the best comments have that warmth and truth you're reaching towards, and I think part of that is an act of trust on the writer? I say this as someone else who wishes they could be less tense when commenting.
posted by rollick at 10:40 AM on August 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

You are as worthy of existing and taking up space as anyone else on the planet and the world needs your contribution! As long as you’re not going out of your way to be damaging or nasty and you’re helping, it doesn’t matter if it’s not phrased perfectly or has an extra exclamation point. Not everything you say will resonate with every person but if you help even one, it’s worth it. So, sure, review and edit but please don’t censor yourself out of anxiety. And so far as brevity, don’t knock it, I could do with some of that.
posted by Jubey at 4:04 PM on August 29, 2018

I think it's important to just be sincere. If you sincerely say what you mean, it'll be fine. If people try to sound smart or whatever, it's never as good. Some people can try to sound smart and they DO end up sounding smart, but even that isn't as good as just being sincere.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:57 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Don't be so hard on yourself, your comments sound totally normal to me. I can't look at a lot of my stuff from years back without feeling shamerage either, and I know I'm not alone. Looking back at your earlier self and feeling embarassed about what a fool you were is a sign of growth. Just be aware that your future self will probably look back at the you of today and feel the same way! It's normal and healthy, and you're fine. The fact that you even think about this stuff at all marks you as an unusually thoughtful and caring person. Now just don't beat yourself up about it too much.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:07 AM on August 30, 2018

How do you learn to be a good commenter?

To me, you are a great commenter if you are having a good time (I don't mean just having fun, but an enriching experience). Unless you have some serious empathy issues, your honest input (simple or deep) is valuable even when you're mistaken, and you don't need to be anxious about fitting anyone's expectations.

There was an episode of Community where two characters meet a man who worked at a carnival and they were completely mystified by the fact that they felt desperate to impress him (even though by all measures he wasn't super successful). In the end, they found out that the carnival guy had had an accident that changed how his brain worked and he simply couldn't feel shame. So he wasn't ashamed of his job, his lack of attractiveness, or anything that other people normally would hold against him. Nobody had power over him.

So, while you externally have nothing to be ashamed of (your comments are perfectly fine!), internally, I think you should work on figuring out why you care that much. Work on mapping out where your feelings of shame come from and do your best to eliminate them. Shame is a useful social regulator, but good, decent people can take it too far sometimes and it ends up in self-hate.

Like I have said quite a lot of nonsensical shit on MeFi (actual nonsense sometimes because English is not my first language), but if people don't get what I'm saying I just feel a little sadness that I couldn't get my message across, but no shame whatsoever. I mean I respect MeFites and value their opinions but I won't lose sleep over their approval yaknow? Past Tarumba doesn't need Present Tarumba's approval either, for that matter. I sometimes go back to my earlier comments for a laugh. It's good to learn to laugh at yourself.

Learn to regulate your shame instincts you'll be happier!
posted by Tarumba at 8:04 AM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

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