I got a stunningly negative book review this week.
It was so long, I actually checked the word count of the review. It was over 1,500 words.
It detailed each part of my book the reader disliked. She listed specific quotes, analyzing my writing, my word choices, and my motives behind why I wrote it. She disagreed with a lot of my character choices and said she didn't feel good when the book was done.
My pride was wounded, of course. But overall, this didn't offend me.
It's impossible for a book to please everyone. There is no single piece of art in this world—not a book nor a song, not a piece of music or poem or painting or movie—that is singlehandedly loved by each person on the planet. It can't be so. We are all unique individuals, with our own thoughts and mind and opinions.
The beautiful part of the internet is that we each have a voice. We can use Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Youtube or a blog to share exactly what we are thinking exactly when we are thinking it. It's a lovely thing, isn't it? We learn about each other instantaneously.
It's also the worst part of the internet.
Although this reader mostly wrote a review about why she disliked my book, she went a little further and wrote some comments about the author. About me. There was a sentence or two that stung.
I was reminded that people get braver on the web. I think the internet has desensitized us. We forget that not everything comes across the waves with a pretty filter.
This reader used her voice to explain why she didn't like my work. Totally fair. But it doesn't mean I have to listen.
I learned a few things this week—about bad book reviews, and rejection, and what to do when you hear something that hurts:
1. You can let the mean words sting.
I want to be a good writer. I want to be a serious writer. Therefore, I want to have thick skin. I am absolutely certain there will be more bad book reviews. I've had people email me their opinions on my writing before. The words have stung each time.
After reading the review, I told myself, "Do not let this affect you. This doesn't matter."
But that wasn't the truth. The words did affect me. They did matter. They weren't kind, no matter how you look at it. So I gave myself a few minutes. I let the words sting.
Then I chose to keep going.
2. Remember why you did this in the first place.
Why did I write my novel? To craft a story of redemption and hope. At the end of the day, this is what I always come back to.
Fill in your own blank. Why did you do the thing you did? Remember the beginning. Remember your why.
3. Vulnerability is the scariest thing in the world.
Each time I hear someone is reading my book, I feel as though they are scooping my insides and spreading them out on a table for examination. Seriously. It feels as though I give each person a small portion of me—the equivalent of handing someone your heart on a platter. Be gentle, I think, be gentle. (They are not always gentle.)
This is vulnerability. Brene Brown is a genius when it comes to this. She says, "Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It's tough to do that when we're terrified about what people might see or think."
This review was a prime example of why I hate being vulnerable. Most of the time, you end up getting hurt. But not always.
Each time you open your hands and offer the world your art, you lose control. You don't get to choose how the receiver will feel when they read it or see it or hear it. Your only portion of control is the choice of whether you'll offer it up at all.
The answer is: always offer your art. Even when it's scary. Even when it hurts.
4. You don't have to listen to strangers on the internet.
I'm grateful for people's feedback. Whenever I create something, I always ask someone's opinion first. I like knowing the message I'm trying to communicate is going to be communicated as effectively as possible.
I don't expect everyone to like everything I produce. It's impossible. I want people to be honest—book reviews are truly about honesty.
But at the end of the day, no matter what anyone says about me or you or the things you or I have created: we don't have to listen to strangers on the internet.
I've been learning about boundaries recently. (This is something I'm terrible at.) I let people in too far. I give too much of myself away too easily. This results in a lot of unnecessary hurt.
This week, I practiced my boundaries. I decided how far book reviews get to come. (The answer? Not very far at all.) This goes for both negative and positive reviews. I am grateful for the feedback, but I will not let this change me. I won't let what people say alter who I am.
5. Keep writing.
Maybe, for you, it's not writing. Maybe it's cooking or singing or playing a guitar or painting murals. I urge you: don't stop doing your thing because someone doesn't like it. That would be the saddest thing in the world.
Today I'm off to school to write my final exam. Soon I'll enter my last semester of college. After that? Who knows. But I know this to be true: I will never stop writing.
Regardless of what anyone says, I am confident in this: my identity isn't formed by what someone says, or what I do. It's immeasurably more than that.
I hope you know this, too. I hope you never stop doing your thing either.
Offer your art today, whatever that may be. Offering your art without knowing the response you'll get? That's one of the bravest choices you can make.