the difficult bit

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago, and she told me she had read through all my manuscripts and would be sending me reviews soon. “I loved some of them,” she said. “And I didn’t like some of them.” I felt a pang of icy fear settle in my stomach. She doesn’t like them? Does that mean I’m going to get harsh, tearing reviews? I’ll never want to write again! I’ll feel worthless, and I’ll doubt myself every time I settle down to write anything.

I’m not exaggerating. Maybe it’s because I’m used to positive reviews, but I think it’s because my books are my life’s work. Each of them is a piece of my soul, and there’s something indescribably terrifying in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, didn’t like it. It scares me. Not because I write to please everyone – I write the stories I think I should and I love doing it. It scares me because I’m afraid of how I’ll react. I can roll with almost any punch I get, but negative critique about my books is always the most painful. You can tell me you don’t like what I’m wearing – okay, but I do. You can tell me I need to watch my tone of voice – yikes, okay, I probably do. But if you tell me you thought my writing was bad, or my characters were shallow, I will crumple. I’ll lose my motivation to write for days, sometimes weeks. It’s pathetic, but it’s what happens. Kind critique – “I loved this, but this could use work” – is fine. However, harsh critique – “So-and-so was a lame character, and you were too _______ throughout the whole book” is hard for me to combat. It gets past all my walls and defenses and stabs me right where I live.

It took years for me to build up the courage to let my family read my writing. I’ve only regretted it a few times – I’ve found the most nitpicky, but the most loving and caring, reviewers in my parents and my siblings. I’ve found the most encouragement in the pack of girlfriends who beta my novels chapter by chapter.

But the threat of a negative review hangs over my head like a Sword of Damoclese, and it’s a risk I take whenever I put my writing into someone else’s hands. WORKSPACE

I want to tell them, “That’s my soul. Please be gentle,” but instead I say, “Hope you like it!” because there’s really no way to stress how important my novels are to me. Even as I write this post, my stomach is twisting into knots at the thought of those reviews heading my way.

I know a lot of others feel the same way. While there’s nothing we can do about negative reviews, there’s a lot we can do about the way we handle them. We can accept the counsel and use it to fix our mistakes. We can learn what some readers dislike about our novels, rather than having people say, “Oh, I love it” and assuming everyone will. We can change and we can grow, and we can realize that, in the end, it’s our novel. It’s our soul and our heart, and one person’s opinion doesn’t take away from that value. It doesn’t lessen the worth. If anything, it should strengthen our resolve to write a better tale next time. Will I do all of this when I get a harsh critique? Not at first; but eventually, I hope to be able to take all the critique that comes my way and separate the wheat from the chaff, to take what I can without letting it hurt me.

You must be thick-skinned when you’re a writer, but don’t let it frighten away your sensitivity. Hopefully, one day in the future, I’ll be able to balance them both perfectly but until then, I’ll take a deep breath and brace myself for whatever comes my way.

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8 thoughts on “the difficult bit

  1. I can relate to this. I have gotten more negative feedback than good and it kills me. Your right because you put yourself in your writing, so any bad thing said against it feels personal. It actually makes me feel better knowing that other people feel the same way. Don’t worry too much about it Mirriam you are awesome! I love the bobble heads by the way I have a Loki one.

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  2. I HEAR YA. And I think if you really really really admire the person reading it and then they DO NOT LIKE YOUR WORK it’s like a double punch. :'(
    I quit writing for a little while (yeeeears back) because I couldn’t handle when people said they didn’t like my book. You’re right: I POURED MY SOUL INTO IT. ARE YOU SAYING YOU DON’T LIKE ME?!! So it is hard. heh. But then again, people we love are just trying to make us write the bestly of best we can, right?!
    Love this post.
    So so true.

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  3. *huuuuugs* I know exactly how you feel. (But I always love your stuff!!! The times I “didn’t like” something in them I can count on one hand and they’re just me–mostly genre differences. ^_^ You are closer to a perfect writer than hardly anyone I’ve read. <3)

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  4. This is so true!! How long did it take before you let your family read your books? Did anything change before you made the decision to risk it?

    But I’m glad you take the risk every time you send out a chapter. <3 It means a lot for you to share your soul with us and the truth in your novels do ring very true in many aspects of many lives. :) Keep it up!

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    1. Once I really started writing (post-Elmeria) I didn’t let my family read anything until I was…seventeen, I think. So there were three or four years where I didn’t let them read anything. I would let friends read it, but not family; because, I know, family will be the most honest, and I was afraid of that. But they’re also the most loving, and I really had nothing to fear. And nothing changed except myself – I decided it was too large a thing to leave my family out of, especially my mother, since we’ve always had books and stories. It was keeping too much of myself separate from my family, and I eventually came to see that was unkind and made them feel ‘not good enough’.

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  5. *wince* Ooh. That’s hard. I think I’ve become a bit better at accepting the kind critiques, like you said, and when I know that a harsher comment is coming from someone who believes in me and has my best interests in mind, I can usually swallow that too. But getting an actual “I don’t like this; it sucks” kind of feedback… :/ I don’t know how I’d react. It would be difficult.
    You’re approaching it with so much maturity, though! And, for the record, going on a Mirri marathon would be pretty sweet. ;D

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  6. I’ve never really gotten a decent critique, in my opinion, but I understand the risk because it’s part of the reason I hold out on getting critiques from people who might speak to me negatively. It’s obviously a part of a writer’s life and something I need to buckle down and get used to, but I don’t know exactly how I accomplish that or what I’m going to do…

    Anyway, I like that you were able to articulate your anxieties so well, and I hope that even if your reviews are painful, they’re at least of some use to you.

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