“Nothing new in this book. Nothing incredibly moving either. It talks about basic stuff that most of us already knew anyway.”
The quote above is a review of my book True Face posted online.
There was a time where reading a review like this would have sent me into a tailspin for days and I would have been plagued by questions like these:
Had I messed up? Had I written a truly unoriginal book? Was it, as Kate Moss might say, a ‘basic bitch’ of a book? Would it help no-one? Were the stories that I and various contributors shared unmoving? Were tales of cancer and parents leaving and eating disorders not grim enough? Should I have had a worse life so that I could be more moving? Or maybe it was my writing that was unmoving? Maybe I was so bad at writing I could even make a terminal cancer diagnosis seem like a basic old walk in the park.
The fact is, it’s tough being on the receiving end of criticism.
Especially when you’ve worked really hard on something that you want people to enjoy.
But here’s the thing…
We can’t please all of the people all of the time.
We can’t control how others will react to us or our creations.
We can only ever be responsible for ourselves.
One of the worst stories I’ve ever heard about criticism for a piece of writing comes from my friend Anna May Mangan. I’ll let her tell you the gory details…
“I once submitted a play to a theatre producer who I knew was mostly interested in young talent. In my covering letter I explained why I had only started to write at the age of 50. I told him my late start was partly because I was a two times cancer survivor and often hadn’t had the physical or mental energy to write. He replied by saying it was a pity that I had recovered and was now well enough to write because I was terrible at it. That same day, whilst crying tears of anger and shock after reading his savage reply, I started to write my family memoir. When I sent it out to agents I had numerous offers of representation and it sold very quickly it to my favourite publisher, Virago. It became a bestseller. His cruel comment was the kick in the ass I needed to stop making excuses and JUST WRITE. For new and established writers the message is the same …. JUST WRITE – it’s that simple.”
It is that simple.
But it’s also *!%$-ing hard.
We’re human. We have feelings. And criticism hurts our feelings.
If we let it.
About a year ago, I decided to stop letting it.
Or at least, I decided to stop letting criticism from strangers hurt me.
I decided to focus solely on what I was responsible for ie; myself and my creations.
As long as I knew I’d given my all to a book – that I’d sat down and written it with the very best of intentions – then I didn’t need to worry.
Of course some people aren’t going to like what I write.
Just as I don’t like every book I read.
We’re all different, with different tastes – that’s part of what makes the world so interesting.
And we’re all entitled to our own opinions.
But what if the criticism comes in the form of a personal attack as Anna’s did?
Should we just accept it then?
I think we should.
What compels a person to launch a spiteful attack against someone they don’t know?
My guess is anger or bitterness or regret or sorrow. Or all of the above.
One thing’s for sure – it certainly isn’t coming from a place of happiness or zen-ed out inner bliss.
When criticism isn’t constructive; when it’s bitter and mean, I think it says way more about the critic than the criticised.
So let it go.
Or let it fire you up, like Anna did.
Take anything useful from the critical reviews or the rejection letters … and disregard the rest.
In a world where one in nine people don’t have enough to eat, where 70 million children are being deprived of an education, who cares if someone didn’t like what you wrote?
Do you like what you wrote?
Did you lose all track of time while you were writing it because you were enjoying yourself so much?
Do you feel proud of yourself for pursuing your creative dreams?
Haters gonna hate but creators gonna create and I know which one I’d rather be.
The truth is, when you focus on writing purely for the love of it you stop caring about the hate.
DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL – OUT NOW!
Ever since I started coaching writers it’s been a dream of mine to write a book about writing. Now – finally – that day has come.
DARE TO WRITE A NOVEL is like having your own personal writing coach in book form, with expert advice on every aspect of the writing, editing, re-writing and pitching process.
You can find out more about it here.
You can buy it on Amazon here.
And if you don’t have a Kindle, no worries. You can buy it as a PDF to download to your computer or other reading device here:
Buy Dare to Write a Novel
“While there are many books on the technicalities of writing, there are few which deal with the problems that face the aspiring author in the other aspects of writing – the personal. Siobhan looks at those areas – why do I want to write, how do I make time, how do I justify the effort, how do I motivate myself – and draws on her experience as a life coach, and as a successful author and editor to provide strategies to work towards achieving your writing dreams and aspirations. Yes, there is sort-of technical stuff there, too; to do with how to develop characters, how to plot, how to keep track of your characters and plot, how to defeat “blocks”, but none of the formulaic “write to the beats”, “6/7/8/9 basic plots” stuff that so many writing handbooks trot out. You even get audio chapters, where Siobhan talks you through the process of visualisation, a technique very few self-help writing books I have come across ever mention, but one that I find particularly useful. I’ll mention here that I know Siobhan; I was a member of one of her writing workshops for a number of years, and benefited greatly from receiving these lessons and strategies first hand. Now I live too far away, this book makes a great replacement for her personal mentoring skills, and I can highly recommend it to any writer who is contemplating starting out on the journey, who is struggling in the process, or is looking to re-ignite their creative fires.” Amazon review
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Thanks so much!
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