Being a writer can be one of the most amazing and rewarding experiences. We write something clever, or moving, or terrifying and then sit back to wait for the responses. “Awesome job, man!” or “Oh my goodness, that was soooo scary!” are all things we crave to hear. Only what happens when we get a review where the person hates what we’ve written? And not only do they hate it but they let us know in the meanest way possible?
Yes, I am talking about the Troll Reviewer (or commenter). You know, the one we all secretly fear but will likely encounter at one point in time. There are a lot of articles out there about how to deal with harsh reviews, and most of the ones I’ve read are quite good and helpful. In my opinion, though, they often deal with the ‘head’ aspect, the thinking behind the appropriate response. But what do we do about how we feel? Isn’t the main reason those reviews or comments are so difficult to shrug off because they hurt?
I decided to write this article (which is based on my opinions and experiences, I’ll hasten to add) is because I believe that responding properly to a tough review involves both the head and the heart. I’ve written before about the fact that when we write, the end product is extremely personal to us. Some even consider it their ‘baby’ or a piece of their own soul, so of course mean and rude comments will feel like salt burning its way through a wound. So how do we get from the point of feeling crushed to the point of accepting the review for what it is–someone’s opinion of our work–and moving on?
The first time I was Trolled, I felt mortified. Horrified. I sat up in the middle of the proverbial road, looking around in confusion for the train which had just stream-rolled over me. I remember thinking, “Is it possible my book is that bad?” Once I got up and dusted myself off, it took a long time to get my head back on straight. I don’t remember if I actually cried or not, but if I didn’t I was probably close to it. I couldn’t understand how someone could so flippantly belittle my work and all the effort I put into it. I knew not everyone would love everything I wrote, but I had expected people to be respectful in how they let me know. I certainly hadn’t expected to be lambasted!
In truth, I should have seen it coming. On the writing site where the book is uploaded, I had received polite reviews which mentioned some of the problems with it, and even my writing buddy had tried to warn me: “You write really well, but the story builds really slowly. Some readers might like that but just know you might lose some (readers) because of it.” “Yeah, uh-huh,” I’d said, “but this is how I want the story to read. This is my vision for it.”
Fatal last words. I came to see that, often, when we hold so tightly to an idea or a concept that we refuse to change it despite evidence we should, we can expect it to come back to haunt us. Though it hurt, I reread that Troll Review a few times. The thing is, I started to see that, despite its obnoxious packaging, the reviewer was actually speaking the truth. Her comments jived with what my writing partner and the other polite reviewers had told me but which I had refused to accept. So, I had a choice to make: continue to bemoan how I was treated and ignore what turned out to be good feedback…or swallow my pride. I chose to drink a big glass of milk to help that bitter pill go down, then I sat down, reconsidered the story…and then wrote the hell out of it. Many times. It was my first book, so it needed a lot of work, but I was determined to show myself–and everyone else–that I could do it. In other words, I transformed that negative situation into a positive one which I then used to my advantage.
Still, we have to be careful. Not every Troll Review is useful. But then neither are all the fluff reviews and feedback we can also get. Every piece of feedback has to be scrutinized and broken down so we can see what is useful and what is not. My point is that just because something is said in a rude way doesn’t mean we should ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ Take a deep breath, read it and reread it until you can see past the crap to whatever nuggets of gold might be hidden underneath it. Then wash them off and write the hell out of your story.
Years later, I can look back on that experience and be grateful for it, even for the pain it brought, since that’s what it took to get me to ‘wake up and smell the coffee.’ Do I wish to live that again? Heck, no! But I have to admit that, in this case, I believe my stop in Dazed and Confused Land had its place on my road to becoming a better writer, and just maybe, it can for you, too.