I am not perfect. No-one is. You aren’t either. It shouldn’t come as a shock, therefore, when we put our creative endeavors out into the world and ask the population to give feedback on it, and some of it ain’t so rosy. “You didn’t do X,” or “Why did you do Y?” or even “It’s utterly shit, don’t make people waste their time looking at it.”
Feedback, reviews, critique, writers love and loathe it. I need it. I crave it. I hate it. Gimme gimme gimme reviews but oh god I can’t stand to read them… it’s like some form of self-torture. Are we writers masochists? It certainly seems that way sometimes.
I joined a local writing group recently. I told them about my books. These are a group of people, the majority of whom haven’t managed to complete an entire novel yet, let alone publish it. I’m somewhat of an anomaly to them. On my second visit to the group, one of the lovely ladies told me she had purchased my book and was reading it, and wondered if I would mind if she recommended it to her reading group. I nearly threw up in her lap, so visceral was my reaction to hearing that suggestion. Yes, oh my good yes, people reading my book? People wanting to talk to me about my book? Awesome… but, shit, they probably won’t like it. Statistically at least one or two of them will probably hate it. Even if they do like it, there will be bits of it they don’t like.
Cue “Why did you do X,Y,Z?” type sentences. Or “I thought Character A would have reacted differently in Chapter 19.” Or “What happened to Character B midway through the book was abhorrent and you are a bad person for even thinking it.”
I’m surprised I didn’t just throw up in her lap to be honest. That chain of thoughts went through my head in about a millisecond and my actual reaction was to just smile and mutter a lot of incoherent “um” and “uhh” type sounds. How eloquent.
I have to remind myself frequently that I am not perfect. My books are not perfect. As it is, another online reading group is currently reading The Machine, 60 or so perfect strangers looking, reading, JUDGING my words, my work. I started reading the book myself having not looked at it for at least six months and I cringe at the first few chapters. They are not well written. The writing improves markedly about a third of the way in, but I accept that some people might not make it to that point. What should I do? Pull the book for a rewrite? Do you think other far more famous and successful authors would do that? Would Stephen King consider rewriting Carrie all these years after? We change so much, so quickly as authors, as artists, as we grow and work. The improvement in my ability is evident within the chapters of my debut novel, never mind the others that have come afterwards. Is it fair to judge my ability as a writer now on something I wrote two years ago when I was far less experienced?
I don’t know. I’m still not perfect. I’m better than I was, but not as good as I will be. I think that’s why it’s so hard to take the negative feedback. The nit-picking comments. The snide remarks. “I’ve improved!” is a pretty poor response. I can’t really expect people to take that into account when reading the book I wrote two years ago.
But what I would ask people to remember is that I’m human. I wrote a book. It’s not perfect. It was never meant to be perfect. The only intent behind the endeavor was to write something that would be enjoyable to read. You can pick it apart, pull it to pieces and put it back together again as much as you want, but all I really want to know is “did you enjoy it?”
If the answer is no, then never mind. Thanks for taking the time to read it anyways. You can’t please them all.
If the answer is yes, then that’s good enough for me.
The critique I will take. I will listen and consider. I may absorb some of it into my future literary endeavors. Then again I might not. After all, nobody is perfect. Not even you.