YOU ARE IN GOOD COMPANY
A number of years ago, while taking piano lessons and worrying that I wasn’t good enough or getting any better, my teacher told me that it wasn’t helpful to compare myself to others who have been playing for years. Instead she reminded me to focus on the fact that, like Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, Chopin, and other like them, we all share the same journey: the love of piano, and the desire to improve. She reminded me that I am in good company.
Now that I am a writer, it is good to remember the words of my teacher. Especially now that I have published my book River of the Stick Wavers. One of the most difficult things I had to do was to let that book go out into the world and allow it to be judged. But as any creative person will tell you, putting your work out there is part of the process. And even if you do get a bad review, you too, are in good company.
LORD GEORGE BYRON:
I have been recently reading a book called A Strange Beginning by Greta Curran Browne, about the life of Lord George Byron, famous English Romantic poet. In 1803 he received a poor review from the Edinburgh Review that upset him so much that he retaliated by writing a satire called English Bards & Scotch Reviewers (1809) which he published himself, which put down Scottish reviewers and English poets that he felt were inferior to him like William Wordsworth for example.
One reviewer called To Kill a Mockingbird “a sappy, clichéd novel.” And thought the women were flat, and the theme “life isn’t fair,” predictable. From my perspective, I found this book to be a brave take on prejudice during the 1960s when Martin Luther King was fighting for equality for black people. Not only that, the main character Atticus Finch, set a wonderful example of how people should all be treated fairly as he tried to protect a black man, who was accused of raping a white woman, from his white Southern neighbours. And let’s not forget that the author wrote this book from the perspective of a child – and a girl at that. Once again, incredible during a time when women were also fighting for equality. What’s cliché or sappy about that?
This classic Jane Eyre is one of my favourites for its strong female character and sparkling dialogue between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. However, one reviewer thought this book was an, “endless, pointless description, and full of metaphors.” While I have to agree there is a lot of description in the beginning of this book that I usually skip over, one has to consider when it was written in 1847, it was the style of writing during that time period. Poet Matthew Arnold wrote, “Miss Brontë has written a hideous, undelightful, convulsed, constricted novel… one of the most utterly disagreeable books I’ve ever read.” Interesting. And yet this book is a classic.
Another favourite author of mine, particularly The Grapes of Wrath. I found the characters sympathetic, hard-working, and survivors, who, despite being treated like shit, were compassionate and willing to help someone else in need. Others called this book, “propaganda, schmaltzy, and laborious. Go figure.
Many years ago, I entered the first chapter of a book I was working on Second Chances to a contest and it didn’t do very well. In fact it rated somewhere near the bottom. It was the worst thing that could have happened to this budding writer. I felt like such a failure. I felt hurt and defensive and didn’t put pen to paper for a number of years after that. Don’t let this happen to you. It is all part of your growth as a writer. Fortunately, my second novel River of the Stick Wavers has received good reviews, though I imagine there are people out there who won’t like it. The thing you have to remember is that Byron, Steinbeck, Bronte and Lee all got bad reviews that left them devastated at one time or other. Does this mean they, or you, should stop writing?
WHY YOU WRITE:
You have to remember why you started writing in the first place: because you love it and you want to grow as a writer and a human being, because you can’t imagine doing anything else, and because this is what the universe calls you to do…fill in the blank. If any of these writers had given up because of a bad review, we would not be reading their work to this day. So don’t give up. In this, you are in good company. And in the end, you will prevail.