This is the latest review of my best-selling novel, The Most Beautiful Thing. I’ve been extremely blessed with the reviews of this book, but whenever we put something creative out into the world there will be people who love it, people who hate it and people who are just plain bored by it.
I’ve had a lot of bad reviews in my time. I used to find them painful and disheartening. I kept on doing work on myself, and gradually (gradually) it got easier. They didn’t get inside me in the way they once did.
When I read today’s bad review I was interested in an increasingly familiar feeling. It was delight. Mixed up with feeling tickled and a smidgeon of feeling superior.
I think the smidgeon of superiority is a way of protecting myself from the pain of criticism. I’m not quite (!) beyond being affected by people not liking the things I write. Feeling better than the bad reviewers in some way (‘well, they obviously don’t have very good taste’) is a tactic I use to keep the hurt at bay.
But the delight feels different – somehow ‘healthier’.
The delight feels like a joyful recognition of the truth of how differently my readers can experience my books. Some love them with passion. Some are completely unaffected. This doesn’t mean that people in the second category aren’t ‘getting’ my books, that they aren’t intelligent or quirky enough to enjoy them, that they might enjoy them more if they read them more carefully or at a different time in their lives. They simply, truly, plain don’t like them. And their experience is just as valid as those readers who shower me in praise.
And the delight is, this is just fine with me. These negative reviews show me that I don’t have to cling to the positive reviews or the sales figures (which I do, I do!) because this positive feedback is not necessary for my survival either. It is not necessary for me to continue to be a writer. It is not even necessary for me to make a living – I’ll make a living somehow, regardless of whether my next book sells in equal numbers or not.
Somewhere in the centre of this delight is an endless freedom – a huge capacity for everything-being-okay whatever people are thinking or saying about me.
If people don’t like my books (or me) then that really is okay with me. They can go and read another book, or make friends with someone different. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in improving my writing, or listening carefully to feedback, or making changes where changes are needed. When we have clashes with people, when they don’t like something about what we’re doing – these are the times that are usually rich with the potential for learning. But the longer I write (or live), the more I see people’s feedback as being as much about them as is about me.
Bad reviews help remind me that I am allowed to write the books I want to write. They help remind me that I am allowed to be the person I want to be. I want to write the best books I can, and be the best person I can be, but my version of those ‘bests’ might not match other people’s. That’s okay!
This quote is attributed to the Buddha, which always sets off alarm bells as I’ve misquoted the Buddha (and been picked up on it) in the past. But I’m pretty sure it’s the kind of thing the Buddha would say.
Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.
Gratitude for my bad reviews, and my good ones. Gratitude for being offered the chance to live this life, with space to write books and blogs and coach creative folk and run mindful writing e-courses and be a psychotherapist and to do the work I love to do. And to you, for reading.