I think I’ve reached an important milestone in my writing career. Defining success is different for all of us and I find that acknowledging every single positive thing helps me to measure my own success. So I track sales numbers, reviews, people signed up for my newsletter, twitter followers, etc. But these things don’t really speak to how I feel about myself as a writer. My ability. My own personal growth, etc.
I’ve found a milestone that I’ve achieved that is rather subjective: confidence. There’s not really a way to measure improvements in your confidence as a writer. Not your sales numbers or numbers of fans. Not really. It’s a feeling. How do you measure feelings?
So I got to thinking about my reaction to other’s opinions of my writing, ranging from editor notes to reader reviews. And I’ve discovered something delightful. And kind of exciting, actually.
It used to be that feedback from an editor or beta reader was very difficult for me to read. It’s not that I didn’t want the feedback because I did. I wanted my writing to be as good as it could be. But negative feedback sent me into a tailspin of angst. I had to force myself to breathe, take the good and the bad, and fix what I could. I used to need months to recover emotionally/mentally from editorial feedback. Seriously. When I got my first edits back on Roanoke Vanishing, I read them, felt like throwing up, read them again and then put the manuscript away for three months. That’s right. It was so painful to me that I wasn’t a perfect writer right out of the gate that I could’t even bear to look at it. Sigh.
Then, the next phase of receiving criticism was in the form of negative reviews from readers. That was truly devastating for me. Not only do I want everyone to like me (as a person), I want everyone to like my writing as well. Hahahaha. (Foolish notion, but one that is no less real even though it’s crazy!) A one or two star review was a terrible blow. Those little yellow stars on Amazon had the power to cause me to doubt whether I should write, if I’d ever be any good, etc. Weeks would go by while I chewed on the bad reviews and carried around a knot of bleh in my stomach. The comments used to hang on. Sort of float above my head in chat bubbles while I typed. I couldn’t write without wondering if people were going to hate it. Eventually I was able to shut those thoughts down. Banish them. Beat the hell out of them. Well, you get the idea.
Here’s the good news, though. Less than one year after my first novel was published, I am in a completely different place.
First, when I get my edits back, I tear into them – eager to discover where I can make improvements in my writing. I no longer attach those notes to my self-worth. At all. And, while I do take a few days to digest all the notes from my editor, I don’t have to temporarily disown my project. Or take anxiety meds. (-:
Second, and maybe the most important, is that a negative review barely even causes a faster pulse for me now. I recently saw a one-star go up on Amazon and I skimmed it for any info that might be useful to make me a better writer and then I went right back to my current project. No nausea or heart palpitations. I was so engrossed in my current project that I actually forgot about the review for several days. When I did remember it, I smiled to myself for having forgotten about it so quickly. Victory!
I now have 61 reviews (4.4 out of 5 stars) for Roanoke Vanishing and am happy to report that my skin is much thicker than it was 7 months ago. Granted, most of the feedback I get is positive. And so the positive feedback helps put the negative comments into perspective. But all this practice with reading both good and feedback has helped me to become better and stronger. Less sensitive. More creative. In other words…Free.
After all, writing is an art. It is my art. And art is subjective.
I no longer wish for everyone to enjoy my writing. Well, that would be nice..if I’m being honest. I suppose it’s more accurate to say that I no longer expect everyone to like it.
I write what moves me and in the end as long as I like it, then I get to call it a success. It’s cool if nobody else thinks so. When someone tells me they like what I do, I take a quick trip to cloud nine but I no longer allow someone’s dislike to send me to a pit of despair. And most importantly, those negative comments are not present when I’m writing anymore. No more rogue, mean-spirited chat bubbles.
So, thanks everyone for the positive feedback. And the negative. Thanks for making me stronger and better. Thanks for helping me to find freedom in my art.