A few years ago I’ve done something irreversible and inexcusable, something I haven’t managed to gather the courage to even try to apologize for during all the years after.
I’ve agreed to read the first draft of a first novel by a very close friend of mine – accepted their trust and the responsibility, which are both pretty serious things. I’ve read the novel, and I’ve hated it – and misinterpreted a heavy issue included in the plot. And then I wrote (and gave to them) an elaborate essay stating all of the things I hated, keeping nothing to myself – but also paying no heed to the words I used and the tone of the comments.
The fallout was very short and very ugly, resulting in us never speaking again to each other for longer than two sentences, precisely. And it took me a few years (yup, I used to be that slow) to realize the mistake was mine and mine alone.
Because there is no such universe where writing could be more important than friendship. The only thing I can think of is if a friend tells you you should stop writing – I’d say that’s good enough of a reason to get the hell away from someone (and stay the frak away).
Karma is hard to accept – but it also happens.
Because, not so long ago, I was on the receiving end of an equally misjudged (verbal) essay of everything wrong with my first novel. I’ve already developed skin thick enough to take the commentary in stride and write to see another day (heck, it’s NaNoWriMo, I have to keep writing if I want to make it alive through November!), but for somebody else, it would’ve been enough to give up writing altogether.
The problem wasn’t in the content – though it hurt as hell – but in the idea that my close friend in this story had that I’m the type of person to accept it without any emotional involvement. The person giving me feedback made an educated guess – and one that really respects me as a person, I’m aware of that – that I would be mature enough take everything in good faith. But they have, in the end, been wrong. And now every page I fill for NaNo 2017 is full of doubt, and my relationship with them is on rocky grounds at best. And all I can do is regret offering them the book in the first place. (In case you’re wondering, I haven’t accepted to beta read many drafts since that one, years ago. I do learn when not to trust myself. Eventually.)
So, to make sure I don’t forget – and to have something to go back to the next time something like this happens (and it’s bound to happen, since I’m not giving up writing and you can’t make me) – here’s a list of some of the things worth remembering when faced with the ugly truth that, when you get published, some people will read it, some people will like it and some people will not.
Lessons learned, the world still hasn’t ended, and we will live to write another day!
They don’t represent the whole world – and, hopefully, the rest of the world has something completely different to say about what you’ve written. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the positive feedback before the negative one arrives (I was very lucky), and if you’re not, just hang in there, and remember that…
They don’t share your life values (including what you think about the purpose of writing in this world). You don’t have to write the book they want to read, but the book you want to read. Also, you don’t owe anything to them other than the decency of not yelling at them when faced with their opinions (it’s not very polite). Are you sure you’d ever agree on a novel’s (any novel’s) worth? Readers are different, which makes this writing thing even more fun, since you get to connect to people you could’ve never even imagine existed! Following, remember that…
They may not even be your novel’s target audience, which is even more important for genre writers than others. What if your best friend in the whole world wrote a seriously heavy and deep mainstream novel about social issues and asked you for feedback? What if your friend wrote a historic paranormal romance with werewolves and asked you for feedback? (Hey, it happens to people!) What do you do then? Nothing other than respecting both of yours limit. Especially if you remember that the opinions of people who read widely outside your genre don’t matter much. Even more because…
They’ve probably never published a (good) novel themselves (if they have, you could have a different kind of a problem – sorry to tell you that, but you probably should listen to at least a part of what they have to say). If they happen to be a journalist, well then, let’s hope it’s not in the literary section!
But, after all…
…you’re not doing it for them. You’re doing it for yourself, for your cheerleaders, for your readers – and you will have readers, mark my words – not for them. You’re doing it for the vast universe all around us. Are you sure one person’s opinion matters all that much?
(PS. And nope, it’s not just writing – it’s every act of creation ever. Sometimes even regular job stuff. And living, too! Ditch the naysayers, do your thing – and have the best time of your life.)