Reviews, the Sweetest Pain

“Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.” –Samuel Johnson

I think writers often worry too much about how their work will be perceived, or rather, how they imagine their work will be perceived, before it’s even finished. They worry about how other writers will see their work: hackwork, work of genius, cutting-edge, supreme prose-stylist, unputdownable.

And how will readers see it? Bland, nothing new, boring, not bad, entertaining, good fluff, best book ever. “I will never read this author again!” “This author is now an autobuy!” If you’re lucky, you’ll get both opinions in the same review. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been pointed to wildly conflicting reviews of the same book. They might even both be right. A lot depends on the perspective from which the book is being viewed.

Worrying about it can stop you-the-writer in your tracks. It’s good to try and be a better writer, I would never argue that. But I think it isn’t generally a good thing to be too self-conscious about how one’s own prose is perceived by others, to the extent that one is paying more attention to what one imagines others will think than to what one is actually doing. Easier said than done, of course.

This is one reason why it’s probably a good thing to ignore reviews of your work. For the most part, I haven’t done this, but I keep thinking I ought to. Once the reviews arrive, I’m already done with the book, and have been done with it for almost a year, and have moved on. In fact, I might be done with the book after it, as well. By the time those reviews start showing up, good, bad, or indifferent, there’s nothing much I can do about the book.

“Writing is like sex. The more you think about it, the harder it is to do. It’s better not to think about it so much and just let it happen.” –Stephen King

We’ll see if I can take my own advice in the future. I fear I’m not strong enough to resist for long–even though any critique in reviews comes too late, there’s the draw of reading commentary on your work by someone who’s read it, and cared enough to write down their thoughts on it. This draw is very tempting when you’ve spent months with little or no feedback about the thing, the novel, that is consuming your life.

“If all critics agreed, only one of us would have a job.” –Mary Kalin-Casey

Related Post: Striving for Perfection.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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9 Responses to Reviews, the Sweetest Pain

  1. Shelli Stevens says:

    Great post, Victoria! I just got my RT review for Take Me and it wasn't as stellar as I'd hoped. But then I got another review from another site and it was much better. So yeah, you really do need to shrug them off. I read all mine, too lol.

  2. Victoria Janssen says:

    Getting an RT review at all ought to be a good thing, right? And two reviews is even better!

  3. Elle Amery says:

    Great post, Victoria. Love your Stephen King quote. BTW – how old is that Bayer ad???

  4. Victoria Janssen says:

    Heroin was marketed as a cough suppressant up to about 1910. WWI did bad things to Bayer and a lot of their trademarks, and of course Bayer also discovered heroin didn't work as a cure for morphine addiction and in fact made the addiction worse. Oops.

  5. Hailey Edwards says:

    Very good points.

    Writing is stressful enough without worrying over what others may or may not think of your work.

    It's counterproductive, but sadly, as you said -also addictive to read reviews.

    Perhaps having a friend screen them would work? LOL

    Then again, we can't grow as writers if we're only told how wonderful we are. Vicious cycle, eh?

  6. Victoria Janssen says:

    I have had friends screen for me–sometimes they find things before I do!

    we can't grow as writers if we're only told how wonderful we are.

    VERY true. I rely on my longtime workshop to keep my feet on the ground.

  7. narasnook says:

    Good advice. I'm in the middle of a live writing project, blogging a scene each day and I admit to worrying how readers would view this or that. If I hit a bad review it would be awfully hard to write past it. Maybe I should have friends screen for me. Fortunately, it's all been good so far.

  8. Christine says:

    We could apply this to every aspect of our lives couldn't we? How much should we really worry about what other people think?

  9. Victoria Janssen says:

    narasnook, maybe you could wait until it's all done to look, for best of both worlds.

    Christine, good point.

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