‘Lacking…’ On being delighted with bad reviews

tmbtcoverLacking. Had the potential of being so much better. Introduced lots of great characters but just didn’t develop them well enough. 

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.

8 thoughts on “‘Lacking…’ On being delighted with bad reviews”

  1. I bought your book on someone’s recommendation – a couple of months ago. It’s in a pile of to-read books. I have a son (aged 34) with Aspergers…

    I hadn’t made the connection before now.

    I try to extract anything useful that I can from negative reviews. There’s always something.


  2. I feel as if this is the true course of my soul right now — to be fully authentic, no matter the company or response, let my soul free. To dance, to fart, to laugh, to scream, to succeed, to continue failing. Yes, true we listen, we adjust if need be, but to allow that change to come from within rather than instigated from “without”…. my true journey.

  3. Thank you for this, Satya.

    It was good to hear that you are so delighted and it was most helpful for me to have your shining a light on the path in front of me.

    Gratefully yours,

  4. How wonderful. I searched for your name on the recommendation of the poet, Jo Ball and I arrive to find this delightful gem of an article. Even with my monkey mind and my busyness, I read from beginning to end.

    I haven’t had to deal with bad reviews yet, probably because I’m not out there as much as you and because with the level of exposure I’m at, my life story inclines people to gentleness.

    But I have the unhelpful habit of reversing bad reviews in my mind. On several occasions when giving talks I have assumed disinterest on someone’s part only to find that the look I took as puzzlement or boredom was a look of concentration and interest!

    When I receive bad reviews on life’s biggest stage, I shall remember your wise words.

    “Bad reviews help remind me that I am allowed to write the books I want to write.”
    Bless your day

  5. Thanks all. Much appreciate you dropping by & taking the time to leave a comment.

  6. Dear Satya, I’ve come to this post a little late, yet the timing was good for me personally because it synchronized with something I’ve just experienced today. This is a very wise post. It must feel relieving to tap into that sense of delight.

    I’m curious to know, in your opinion, does this advice of accepting a bad review/opinion apply in situations in which you receive a bad review from someone very dear and close to you, say, your husband?

    I think it does, yet it seems to be a little more challenging to apply (for me at least).

    I think it is helpful not to assume that just because someone dear to you hasn’t enjoyed a portion of the stories/poems you’ve written means that there is a big misunderstanding/barrier in your relationship in general.

    I think being gentle and compassionate with ourselves during those hurt/vulnerable moments may help us, instead of feeling simply guilty (such as, Why am I upset over nothing? I’m such a baby). It also helps to remember that the reason we write is not to get ONLY good reviews, even from those closest to us, that we are free to write what we would like, as you have said in this post.

    Lastly, when the people closest to us have read a good selection of our current and past writing, we may feel that we’ll never write anything “good” again, if they’ve specifically applauded our earlier work. I think this is a lie we believe when we’re feeling vulnerable.

  7. Hi Satyavani!
    I really enjoyed your post. Still getting the hang of this Facebook malarky. Hope to catch up soon. Xx

  8. “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.”

    You brought books and yourself together in this sentence. But I hope you do separate them! Because reviewer just writes about your book, s/he is not your friend, or at least being your friend should not enter into consideration. No reviewer is completely objective, of course.

    “Had the potential of being so much better. Introduced lots of great characters but just didn’t develop them well enough.”

    Is this bad? (You say “bad review”.) I’d say, it only says that the reviewer sees unrealised potential. It does not mean s/he hates the book, right?

    All the best

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