The Day I Stopped Reading Reviews
One morning a year ago I received a Google alert that someone had written a blog about a book I’d recently published. Because I’d gotten the alert just as I was sitting down to work, I decided not to read it until I was done writing. Though I doubted someone would take the time to write an entire blog about how much they hated the book, anything was possible, and I wasn’t about to spend the entire morning working against the current of self-doubt that often gets stirred up after I read a bad review. Soon enough I was into the story I was telling, and I forgot about the blog, and also that I had to drop my car at the mechanics, and that I needed peanut butter when I went shopping, and that there was turmoil in the Middle East, and that I was forty-nine. In fact, it went well enough that day that I forgot about time itself and didn’t remember until I came out of the story-dream that I had other things to do that day.
Such as read a blog someone had written about my book. I knew within the first sentence that the blog’s author had liked the book and wanted to share her enthusiasm for it with her readers. Oh good, I thought, and settled in for a little praise. As I read further, however, I noticed something unusual. The more the author complimented what I’d written, the more I experienced something I had once called excitement, but which I now thought was perhaps something else. By the time I was done reading the blog I realized it wasn’t excitement at all – it was fear.
In fact, what I felt reading this good review was hardly any different than what I felt when I read a bad review. Either way, I was letting what someone else thought of what I’d written determine how I should feel about what I’d written, and this is an untenable position for a writer. The only way to enter that story-dream I so wanted to enter was to forget completely about all the other people and all their opinions. To enter that dream, I must forget about everything but the dream.
That was the day I decided I was done reading reviews – and not just my reviews, but all reviews. I understand reviews serve many purposes, including promoting the books we’ve written, as well helping readers choose which books they want to read. Also, some of my best friends write book reviews and love doing so. I am not advocating an end to book reviews. But I can’t read them anymore. The more I read them the more I believe that it actually matters what one person thinks about what another person has written.
If I’m going to live by that sword, then I will surely die by it, and have many times. I have staggered about like the walking dead after receiving a bad review. What I thought was good was bad. As a writer, I might as well mistake night for day. I am left to roam the countryside, feasting on praise wherever I can find it. That is a hunger that cannot be satisfied. No matter how many times I let someone else tell me how I should feel about who I am or what I’ve done, at the end of the day I am left only with myself and my imagination and my curiosity – my only true company when I write my books and live my life.
"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com