I just got the worst review of my writing life. I mean, truly brutal. They pretty much hated everything about the story.
Technically, it was written four years ago, but I just ran across it this last week.
It’s for one of my earlier stories, but it absolutely pulls no punches – the characters sketchy and poorly drawn, the story unbelievable, and – gasp – the world-building too sparse.
It also called my writing that most dreaded of adjectives, the one every writer hates to hear.
I bring this up not to cast aspersions on the reviewer. They felt the way they felt, and to their credit, they took the time to really looked deeply at the story, kicking the tires, checking the oil, and taking a deep dive into its guts. I know, mixed metaphors and all that. *grin*
As one of my writer friends recently lamented – reviews are not for authors.
What struck me about reading this one was how much it would have affected me if I had run across it back when it was written. I was still a fledgling author, and this particular story was one of my first stand-alone tales.
It got a reasonably good reviews otherwise, which I read and cheered about. And then I kept on writing.
I know how much I have grown with my craft over time. My characterization – which was always a weak point for me – has really improved, and my world building has become the stuff of (rather limited) legend.
But bad reviews – especially brutally bad ones, are a writer’s kryptonite. If I had read this one back then, there’s a good chance I would have been stopped in my tracks, that I would have given up on this whole writing thing again, and maybe forever this time.
I’ve talked to many writer friends who have felt the same way. No number of wonderful reviews can prepare you for the one that really cuts to the bone. One bad review is worth twenty good ones, no matter how illogical that seems.
Most of us writers have a healthy dose of Imposter Syndrome – that conviction that we don’t really know what we’re doing, that we’re faking it and are *this close* to being found out. When a reviewer really hates our work, it plays right into our own pre-existing doubts and fears.
So what’s a poor, self-doubting writer gonna do?
Reviewers gonna review. I can’t stop them from disliking my work or saying bad things about it. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to. As long as they are speaking from their authentic experience, they have every right to say how they feel about what I wrote. There’s a school of thought that this actually helps – that readers distrust a book with only good reviews, and a bad oen can help put them in perspective.
But to continue on after receiving one – that’s another story. We authors have to own our own power. We have to figure out who we are as writers – what our voice is – and then plow ahead, keeping true to our own vision. When someone questions it, we must learn to take what is helpful and let go of the rest.
It helps, too, to have a trusted friend or two – someone you can vent to privately and get some of the angst out. And paper bags you can scream into are extremely helpful.
You should never respond in kind, or belittle the reviewer for what they said. But you can’t let their words eat you alive either.
Is it easy? Hell no.
Am I glad I didn’t see this review way back then? Totally. It would have near-killed me as a writer.
In the end, though, I get stronger with each new book and each review, even the bad ones. I can read ones like this now, say a mental thank you for the time the reviewer took to consider my work, and move on.
So thank you to this reviewer for your input and dedication to your craft.
And I hope you liked the next one better. 🙂
How about you, my writer friends? Have you had a review that just knocked the wind out of you? Without giving details or naming names, how did you deal with it?