If you have any friends who are published writers, it doesn’t take long before you witness them coping with vicious reviews. I don’t know how you respond in such cases, but this has been my progression:
1. Feel horribly, deeply sympathetic, not only because you can see how it’s affecting them, but you can identify with their feelings. After all, you’ve had precious work that’s been misunderstood. You’ve been mocked and hated by people for no accountable reason. (As in all of junior high school.)
2. Give the kind of support which helped you in similar circumstances, or that you imagine would soothe you if the review were yours.
Depending upon the person and your mood, this can range from reflective listening to a pep talk, or concocting elaborate revenge fantasies, safe in the knowledge they will never be enacted. (Remind me to tell you about the family walks in which the ToolMaster and I pushed a serene Molly in her stroller, all while musing about hiring a hitman.)
3. Eventually you reach the point where the hits keep coming, the friends keep hurting, and you realize you have nothing fresh to give. If there is to be healing and forward movement, it’s going to come from people more qualified than you. Alternatively, it’ll have to be an inside job. Your friends will dig deep and find a source of resilience, or they won’t.
Spend long enough in this stage and you’ll soon see two options:
- Remain an empathetic, soft place to land, while accepting there’s nothing more you can do.
- Use rationalization or distancing to avoid feeling overwhelmed by their suffering. This might manifest as becoming unresponsive, uttering meaningless platitudes, rejecting their emotions, or even a certain smugness. When I get to this stage, I’ll be able to manage it without this level of angst.
My confession: despite avoiding compassion fatigue for the most part in medicine, when it comes to writing, I know there are times I’ve fallen into the latter category.
This was brought home to me in my latest Writer Unboxed post. (Never Go Naked to Scrabble: Authorial Words Containing “BIC”)
Mondays are heavy, dreaded day for the O’Hara offspring. Accordingly, after the success and laughter which greeted a similar post, I wrote this post hoping to make it a Monday-refuge. And for the most part, I believe I would have succeeded, except for one tiny fly in the ointment.
Though it’s deleted now, I used a phrase in the intro which was funny to my Canadian beta-readers, and probably would have played well on a Southpark episode or to a Colbert audience. But it wasn’t right for the WU audience.
Further, the timing made it too painful for some, and most importantly, I discovered I possessed a cultural blind spot. No matter how many friends I have in the States, no matter how educated I might be, I am not an American. I’m just not. What was intended as comedic relief actually aggravated a cultural wound.
Similarly, as the comments rolled in—some generous as they corrected me, some less so—as my mouth filled with a bitter taste and my heart accelerated, I knew that no matter how much I might think I understood about rejection and how to manage it, I’d been fooling myself.
These are marvelous things to know, Zesties. Back to beginner mind.
I didn’t enjoy the experience at the time, but I’m grateful for what I’ve learned. Perhaps I’ll become a better writer or, failing that, a better friend.
If you have writer friends, are you good at consoling them when they receive a bad review? What has been most effective?
Tell me about your cultural blind spots. Do you know what you don’t know? What steps have you taken to guard against them?