On taking it personallyPosted: January 18, 2012
Some of my readers may not have the background for this post, so let me just start off with a few links to bring folks up to speed. There has been drama in Internet Bookland between YA authors and reviewers. In the fewest words possible: Authors, feeling hurt by reviews, have lashed out at reviewers. Reviewers have lashed back. It’s been widespread and notable enough that there was an article in The Guardian about it. Numerous writers and reviewers have blogged about it as well. Here’s an analysis I found fair and insightful.
I have written this post in my head a dozen times, and it keeps coming out very blame-y. Usually blaming authors, even though I am one. Maybe because I am one, and can see where the fault lines are in myself. Reviewers are going to review; authors can choose how or whether to respond. That post gets preachy and prescriptive, though, and that’s no good.
All I can do, honestly, is talk about myself and my own responses. If there are any useful tips here that anyone can take away, great. If this leads to a general consensus of OMG Rachel’s a weirdo, that is also fine. In fact, I’ll lead the chorus because I think I have a pretty deep insight into just how weird I am.
Bad reviews hurt. Heck, I’ve even been hurt by good reviews. I’m talented that way.
I can take anything personally, and probably have. You name it. The Wii telling me I can’t jump. The dog eating poo. The weather.
I am hypersensitive. That’s one of the reasons I’m a writer. In fact, I’d venture to say hypersensitivity is a useful trait for any kind of artist. It’s what compels me to create, and what gives my creations depth and emotional resonance. It’s what enables me to put words together in interesting and unexpected ways. Maybe it’s part of why I have so many ideas; all I require is the faintest feeling, the barest breath of nuance, to see all the myriad potentials therein.
I’m quick to laugh and quick to cry. The same trait that lets me feel a sunset intensely also means I can be easily hurt.
It’s funny because it isn’t: the drama has generated many exhortations to authors to Be Professional! when ironically our profession demands that we feel things intensely. Feeling is part of my job, ha ha! Feeling isn’t destiny, though, however fast and sometimes overwhelmingly it comes over me. I can let it control me, or I can take some time and deliberately decide how to act.
It was becoming a mom that really forced me to face the issue: it became imperative that I find a way to protect myself from such easily hurt feelings. One cannot afford to take a three-year-old personally. That is the fast track to madness. A three-year-old has lungs of steel, is incapable of reason, and has surprisingly little sense of self-preservation.
Mine used to scream: “I blame you out of the universe!”
The only reason I’m still here, in the universe, is that I developed specific strategies for dealing with it without having my feelings hurt all the time. I would listen (with my heart, not my ears) for the unspoken truth beneath his words. He would scream, “I hate you!” but I would hear, “I so mad I’m going to say the most hurtful thing I can think of to say!” There was always a big emotion there, and that emotion was the truth, and it did not entail a judgement on me. It was about him.
I won’t pretend he never got to me. I had a hard and fast rule for myself, however: never hurt the child. Ever. That was the bottom line, no matter how angry he made me. I had a lot of different strategies for calming down when I got mad – friends to call, a supportive spouse, putting him in a safe place while I went in the other room and had a little tantrum of my own. Long vigorous walks. Sanity breaks.
Navigating his storms was a discipline, and one I apply to all kinds of potentially hurtful things. Bad drivers. Rude grocery clerks. Trolls. Bullies. And yes, reviews – good, bad, and indifferent. I work at not taking them personally; it requires vigilance, but it’s doable. There will always be bad days when I fail, of course, but in those situations I have learned to recognize what’s happening and to walk away. And the bottom line is what it always was: no hitting back. Not even if a reviewer snatches my glasses right off my face and throws them across the parking lot.
Er. Sorry. Toddler-parenting flashback. I do not miss those days.
For the record, I love that boy with everything I’ve got; I always have, and I always will. And I love reviews, reviewers, and online book-discussion forums, even when they sting a bit.
The dog, on the other hand, is totally out to get me.
Here’s one last thing to think about: one of the reasons I write is because I am so easily wounded. Writing is synthesis and transformation, a way to heal and make sense of things, a way to spin dreck into gold.
I lie down with hurt, I wake up with art. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what it’s all about.