“You must have really thick skin.”
That was a comment from a friend of mine recently. He was talking about one review in particular that has been posted against Glamour of the God-Touched. Before I go too far here, let me state a thing or two. First, I’m quite pleased with the response to this story of mine. Sales are steady and commentary is quite glowing about the work itself. The only real controversy around it is its length…which I can’t do a lot about, and which is listed at the top of the volume’s listing. I mean, everywhere I go, I do my best to point out that this project is a set of serial novellas. And I avoided using the term “Book X” the covers specifically to avoid the idea that these were brick-thick novels. One does what he can, and at that point there’s not much left to say. Shrug.
But, yes, I’ve been around long enough to know that (1) there are always a few who won’t like your work … and (2) that’s completely fine. In the case of this particular work, I have to say I was expecting more push-back on the actual content, because the end of #1 is a particularly dark moment in Garrick’s (my protagonist’s) existence. It is not his finest moment. Beyond that, the first story is the shortest in the series, and I knew in advance what I was in for in that vein. I know there are folks who buy things without taking into account, or even checking into, its length.
So, I expected to lose some folks there. I figured in advance that if I could get folks to volume 2, then things would get copacetic. It’s all good.
I don’t remember my exact response to my friend’s comment, but it was in the line of “Hey, that’s okay.” Then I had a bit of a masochistic chuckle over the reviewer in question calling Garrick a douchebag and we moved on.
The thing about reviews is that there are as many reactions to a work as there are people. If you’re going to write, you just have to come to grips with that fact. And you have to come to grips with the idea that they are all essentially “right,” even if some are more pleasant to accept than others. For example (picking notes from two people I have absolutely zero connection to), one person read Garrick’s first tale and said:
”Compared to a lot of published material in this genre this book is absolutely brilliant. It is original, well written, well-paced and has a fairly engaging core character.” *
While another read it and said:
”… reads like a 12year old dungeon master running out of ideas. I read a lot of fantasy and don’t generally leave reviews as I think everyone deserves a chance but cynically I think this is here to divest you of some money and nothing more”
Both of these people are in the UK, and I have almost certainly not met them ever in my life. They are “just” two random readers, both of whom I am immensely grateful to for having taken a chance on my writing. I am a small fry. I need every read I can get. But clearly, these two had very different experiences with the work. And, of course, both of them are right. In one case, I was a good enough writer to impress. In the other case, I was a 12-year-old DM derelict of ideas. But both of them are right. Go figure.
(*) I should note that the reader who left #1 downgraded his rating because he was surprised it was a novella rather than a book.
If you’re reading my blog because you’re a writer (or any other kind of artist, for that matter), I think the point here is that, yes, you probably do need to have thick skin at times. Or, at least it’s helpful to be able to divorce yourself from your work to the degree that you can keep what are usually a relatively few sharp comments from harshing your buzz. There is no question that, in the early days of your so-called “career” especially, criticism will cause a writer to be taken aback. I mean, I know some folks say they are never hurt at all by pointed comments, but I think that’s more than a bit of a front. What I think they mean is that they’ve figured out how to deal with them internally and move one pretty quickly.
The problem, of course, is that very few people seem to come equipped with skin coated with Kevlar. I have known writers who literally cannot keep their creative flow going when they hear or read something uncomplimentary about their work. Sometimes the writer receives twenty glowing comments, but cannot use them to leverage themselves out of one critical zinger. I get it. I do. Dealing with someone saying the art you bled over for months has less value than sheep’s dung can sting a little.
So, how do you make that happen? How can one grow this thick skin?
I suggest only this focus on the positive, and keep making things.
Focus on the things people like. There are likely a lot more of these anyway (as there are with GGT), and these are your peeps. They are your audience. Remember that, and as you’re sitting at your desk writing something new, picture yourself telling that story to those folks. Imagine them smiling at victories, or weeping at losses. Imagine them chuckling at the little jokes you’ve added in there because they make you feel so good.
Or, better yet, focus on the things you like about your work. It’s your art, after all. It’s your message.
I was thinking about that this morning in particular because today, for the first time after probably two months of solid work on producing the Saga of the God-Touched Mage (not writing, but producing … two very different things), I actually sat down and began the purely creative work on a new project. This one a short story that I hope will be finding a home shortly. But today it’s serving a different purpose. Today, you see, it’s making me happy. And it’s managing to do that all by itself.
And that, I think, creates the thickest skin of all.