On Monday, I received an amazing five-star review for Oak and Mist. The reviewer took the time to write a detailed analysis of why they enjoyed the book, and I was (and still am) completely thrilled.
Today, when I logged into my Goodreads account, I noticed someone had given Oak and Mist a two-star rating. No written review, just a star rating (which is fairly common on Goodreads).
So, two days, two vastly different perceptions of the same book.
Writers can be very hard on themselves. Like most artists, I suppose – self doubt and criticism certainly isn’t limited to the writing field. I’ve heard fellow writers whom I know to be talented, who’ve written wonderful work, wondering whether they should keep going, that their work will never be published, that it’s not worth the stress. It’s a very tough business, one in which we have to deal with rejection almost every day. Whether it’s yet another agent rejecting your submission, another contest where you didn’t place, another not-so-positive review or simply a day where no books sell, we need a thick skin to deal with it all.
Yet to write is to have a thin skin. To be open to emotions and vibrations and stories as they happen around us, so we can transfer them to the page. If we shut ourselves away from the world, we shut ourselves away from the potential for new ideas. If we lose the sensitivity that leads us to create in the first place, then creating becomes more difficult. An impossible dilemma.
Or is it? The other week, I wrote about the spider outside my window, who every day creates a new web. The lesson I took from this is that each day is a new opportunity. A chance to get up, dust yourself off, and get on with things. And once my work goes out there in the world, I have to accept that it is open to whatever might come along, good or bad. Art in itself is subjective – what one person might love, another might absolutely hate.
While I was on Goodreads I added another book to my ‘Read’ list. This is a book that was raved about, that had a huge display at my local Waterstones and loads of write-ups in the media. I thought it was a great story – well-written, suspenseful, and with a nice twist at the end. For me, it was a four-star read. And yet, when I checked, it had over 1200 one-star ratings.
So I guess what I need to remind myself of is this: If you’re writing, keep writing. Do it for you. Do it for those who want to read. Be brave, and get it out there. The important thing is that you are creating something. Focus on the positives, rather than the not-so-positives.
And if your web breaks, spin yourself another one.
(Oh, and this isn’t a ‘poor me’ post – I’ve had lots of lovely comments on here about my writing, and I know I’m very fortunate. It’s just part of my journey through writing, and I think most of us have experienced days like this).
I totally agree with your position! I only ask for critiques from fellow writers from whom I respect their opinions. Not everything is for everybody and plenty of people would end a book differently. I must write for me. If I start doing it for fame or ratings it then becomes tedious and I feel insanity rising.
That’s it, exactly – you have to write for you. Critiques are helpful in picking up plot holes or errors before you publish – after that, in some ways your book doesn’t belong to you any more. It belongs to the readers, and each will see the story in their own way 🙂
That’s a good way of looking at it!
Every reader will find something different that they love, or loathe… but if we don’t write for ourselves then we are selling both ourselves and the reader short as, however they emerge, only we can tell ‘our’ stories.
Absolutely, Sue, I so agree – we have to tell the stories we have. I always kind of feel that if I try to write something else, pander to someone else’s taste, that whatever it is that sends me stories will stop doing so 🙂
I understand that perfectly, Helen 🙂
A very inspiring and encouraging post, Helen… just what I needed to read, thank you!
Oh thank you Ali, and I’m glad it helped. You’re such a good writer and I think we all have these days xx 🙂
We certainly do! 😊
I agree, Helen. Though for me, it’s easier to keep the brush off and start again perspective going when things are well. I’ve learned the importance of vulnerability in being creative and connecting with other people; but I’ve never been able to get over the fear of rejection. Once I get my dissertation out into the world, and if I ever write a book, I plan to also see it as no longer mine. In fact somethimes I feel there’s a sense in which what I am writing does not belong to me, even in the process. 🙂
Yes, it is easier to do when things are going well, and I think fear of rejection is something deep in most of our psyches, perhaps from the days when rejection could mean death, depending on the circumstances. So it’s a tough one to overcome. I did comment to someone else that I felt in some ways, my book didn’t belong to me any more when it went out into the world – it’s still my work, but the way it is perceived is now beyond my control.
Come on Helen, keep the faith! Its all subjective – you can play this back to me when I am in same position :-). You are a great writer!
Don’t worry Lucy, my faith is intact 🙂 And it is absolutely subjective – it’s quite interesting, really, and I don’t take it personally (or I try not to, ha). And yes, I’ll play it back to you one day xx
Yep, don’t beat yourself up, is definitely the case. Others will do what others will do and we can’t control it so on we go. So, as they say in Rome ‘Non illigitamus carborundum’
absolutely, Geoff – and don’t worry, I’m not beating myself up about it – it is what it is and I actually find the review process fascinating, how two people can see the same thing so differently. It was more a commentary really, as I think we all go through ups and downs as writers 🙂
I like your review style, Helen. Very authentic :). Would love to feature your reviews in our weekly curated email digest that goes out to thousands of people.
Thanks Jessica – I actually didn’t write the review – it was another blogger, Crumpled Paper Cranes, who did.
Oh ok. Thanks, Helen 🙂
You’ve weaved an excellent web here, Helen (excuse the pun). I’ve yet to publish a book and it’s only from published authors like yourself that I am learning about the pitfalls of publishing and how to handle them. Not everybody likes bananas on toast like I do, so I realise that there are going to be times when I feel like giving up on the writing altogether. However, it’s the support and advice from other writers like yourself that will keep me writing.
Thanks Hugh – yes, I love the supportive community on here, it really is one of the nicest things about writing 🙂 And so what if not everyone likes bananas on toast – we just need to concentrate on those that do!
Ever so important, Helen, to remember that we all have different tastes. Sometimes I can be amazed which books some of my friends like or dislike, yet they are honest opinions. Someone who might not generally like (for example) fantasy books could pick one up by accident, or decide to have ‘one more go at liking them’, and find that it just doesn’t work for them. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the book, or that the author should be upset at the consequent bad review. But, of course, critisism hurts, no matter what anyone says. The good reviews for your books would seem to far outweigh the bad, however, so I suspect that the good reviews are the real deal!
Thanks Mick – that’s how I feel too. And that reviewer was perfectly justified to leave their opinion, as is everyone else. So I hope the post came across that way, that it’s all part of writing and we need to not be hard on ourselves, because it’s all subjective. And thanks for your kind words about the good reviews – absolutely, those are the ones I’m focusing on!