This week I experienced a momentary existential crisis. I was surrounded by those self-doubts that we all have, and that we keep in check by locking them in that closet under the stairs with those monsters of childhood and demons of adolescence. I ignored the shrieks of terror and the pounding on the door shaking the house with those tepid sounds only heard in the most common of nightmares.
It really wasn’t that bad, but it was a tough week. After months of waiting, I finally received a review from Publisher’s Weekly. I knew it could go either way, but I didn’t anticipate the reviewer tearing my work to shreds. All of the workshopping I did in the MFA program almost prepared me for this unforgiving review. The review began by describing Fatizen 24602 as, “saddled with the unsubtlety and logical complexity of Ayn Rand.” Of all people to use as a comparison. (My friend Daphne said it best, “them’s fightin’ words!”) But with each gnawing sentence of this unrelenting review, my heart sank a little deeper until the critic added, “…uncompelling and unoriginal…characters barely realized.” Really?
It’s only one reviewer’s thoughts, but it was disappointing. In working on the upcoming graphic novel of the book, there are moments when I’ve wanted to rewrite a passage or three and make it better-the pros and cons of working on your craft. I love seeing Mason’s illustrations of how he sees my world and the characters I’ve created. And like any parent, praise them all you want but I don’t want to hear negative crap about my kids.
I write because there are stories inside that I have to let out. There are new characters screaming to be heard and plots needing to be birthed or my mind will be a constipated mess. I went to school so I could learn how to do this right. I’ve been taught by some great and talented writers. So no, I’m not afraid of a bad review. It’s clear that this critic really didn’t like my book. Passionately. He/she didn’t like where I went with it and what I focused on. The topic is controversial and everyone brings his or her own baggage along for the ride which informs their own read. It does make me think about my approach & execution, and what I could have done better.
I also write because I love it and the process of learning. As writers, we lay it on the line in words, beautiful words that, when done right, float off the page and create beautiful or terrifying worlds or impart insightful memories of our lives that are worthy of sharing with others. And then we have to let go and move on to new projects.
It’s a brave thing to put your writing out there for others to critique, and it’s not always easy. Critics won’t always be nice, aren’t always understanding and won’t always share your point of view. And most importantly, they didn’t all get the memo to “not be an asshole.” But there are more stories for me to tell. So I’m dusting myself off, nursing my bruises, sharpening my writing teeth, and painting my nails Jungle Red. I’m so not done here.