I’ve been quiet on here for the last few weeks. Finishing a book and getting it out there is more than a little overwhelming. That was the first week. The next week, I re-edited Book 3 in preparation for a large promotion. Then, this last week I have dealt with one of the worst results of a large promotion and exposing lots of people to my books … nasty reviews. The first two weeks wiped me out physically and mentally, this last week wiped me out emotionally.
Now, before you react and feel sorry for me, think I’m a ninny because I pay attention to the haters, or call me thin-skinned because I can’t take criticism, I need you to understand that none of those things are the real point of what I’m about to say.
I was raised to be an over-achiever. My parents always told me how proud they were when I did something well, and rather than belittling me when I made a mistake or failed; they encouraged me to never quit. My life hasn’t been filled with wild successes. I have failed and made terrible mistakes. I don’t always win. I have pretty thick skin for constructive criticism – otherwise how would I have ever gotten this far and I know when people are reacting to the things I do because of their own insecurities.
However, it still hurts. Anyone who is creative soon discovers that putting their soul on the line when they are expressing themselves, no matter the medium, is a risky thing to do. People … humanity … we’re broken … and it is often difficult to accept that risk in someone else because we are so unwilling to take it ourselves.
As I’ve spent time thinking about all of this, two things came to mind that I needed to understand for myself. These came from conversations I had with friends who had to listen to me completely fall apart yesterday.
First. The reason that I fall apart and hide inside myself when I am criticized unfairly (I’m not talking about constructive criticism, I’m talking about nasty, irrelevant and unnecessary criticism), even if I know that it is a bullying tactic written by someone who doesn’t have a lot of joy in their life; is because it feeds into a tiny part of me that I bury very deeply. Deep down inside there is that little bit of me that believes them and now that someone has said them out loud, they must be true. See, some of those reviews, in essence, tell me that I shouldn’t be writing anything and putting it out there for the public to read. My books are crap and no one else should take the time to download them, much less read them. These are the same playground bullying tactics that tell a little girl she is ugly or a little boy that he is a weakling and they shouldn’t even bother to exist. Because of the anonymity these bullies are afforded, they get away with digging into a person’s deepest fears and making them bigger than they really are.
Second, bullying happens in secret. As soon as I told a few close friends what was affecting me, they jumped right in to remind me of the truth. I thought it was necessary for me to be quiet about how this hurt me, because the more I talked about it, the weaker I looked for letting it get to me and besides, who wants to listen to me whine. I was never brought up to be a whiner.
Hey … when I’m sane, I know this stuff isn’t about me. I know these people are bullies and I shouldn’t let them get to me. I know there are a lot of people who love what I write. I try not to be affected by the things that are said about my writing, to let it roll off my back. I’ve been told that if I put myself out there, I should expect this stuff and I’d better be tough enough to take it. I know that people like this are also writing terrible reviews of classic literature (imagine that!). I know all of this, so I also know that no one wants to hear how it tears me up and that makes me keep my mouth shut about it.
But when I said something out loud, all of a sudden it made the hateful comments seem less potent. Part of it was my friend’s responses, but most of it was the fact that I put those horrible things out there and I didn’t die. I took away their power by exposing them for what they were.
That was a huge learning moment for me. It made it easier for me to come back to sanity and return to the realization that these words don’t have the power to actually affect my life. They shouldn’t even get a day’s worth of tears out of me, but I’m human and when I get hurt badly enough, I fall apart.
I know that the people who will read this are not the same people who post those things. I’m preaching to the proverbial choir … and that’s too bad, because we have got to stop tearing people down in order to build ourselves up. We have to. There is so much beauty in the world and it is muddied and destroyed by negative words and behaviors.
Now … the proper response here is not to feel sorry for me or take pity on me. I’ve gotten past it and after spending this last year reading a whole lot of bad things that people feel it necessary to post about me and my writing, I’ve gotten better at dealing with 98% of those reviews. I’ll also learn to deal with the rest of them.
The proper response is to do your best to overcome the natural tendencies we have to be negative. The proper response is to encourage others … lots of others. When you see someone doing something great, tell them. Not me. You are already telling me. But tell lots of people. When you appreciate a waitress or a checkout clerk, say something! Tell people how great they are.
And, one last mantra I’d like to put out there for you. My sister, who is a fifth grade teacher, is trying to train her students to do this. Remember these words and practice them often. Put them on your refrigerator, post them on your Facebook wall. Tweet them, remind everyone over and over again.
Praise publicly, Criticize privately.
Do the world a favor. Flood it with grace.