Sometimes, creativity and desperation drives us to do things we wouldn't normally do.
A few years ago, breathing in the fumes from a publishing relationship gone sour, I partnered with a service that would offer my book for free in exchange for reviews. That wasn't the mistake.
The mistake came when I made the decision to take back my content and revise Come Alive. I would retitle it, recover it, re-release it.
Have I mentioned how much I love new beginnings and blank slates? The possibilities are endless. I had a few hundred emails from people who downloaded the original book for free and I decided to make new out of the mess I was left with when my publisher shut down and my agent dropped the contract.
I turned the mailing list into beta readers.
"You get to help with the rewrites!" I said, full of naïvety and hope. "As you read through the book, let me know your thoughts. What do you want to see developed? What pieces of the plot didn't make sense?"
And the big question — the one that kicked me in the pants before I even knew what was happening:
"How can I make it better?"
The emails were almost immediate, some good — some okay — others rather opinionated. But it was one email that nearly knocked me off my feet.
I was at a local coffee shop when I got the email. Outside in the cold February air, I scrolled through the words and felt the immediate sting of tears against my cheeks.
No wonder you're editing it, the email said. I couldn't even get past the first two chapters. Horrible book. Waste of my time. So glad you're fixing it.
There were other words, each more hostile than the first. I didn't know this person. I had no idea why she felt the need to attack me. I backed out of the inbox as quick as I could and fought to breathe as the gremlins made their case.
She's right, you know. Why do you think the publisher closed? Why do you think your agent left you? You're no good. Your writing is stupid. Horrible, even. You shouldn't even try and edit because it would be a waste of your time....
I didn't write for weeks, and I didn't really jump into editing Come Alive (now Every Shattered Thing) until that summer.
A few months ago, I was introduced to Critics Math. Basically, critics math does not care about the glowing reviews. You can receive 100 5-stars and one 1-star and what will you remember?
The one star.
When I sent out the email, I wasn't expecting everyone to love the book. I wasn't even expecting all good things waiting for me in my inbox. I knew there would be some criticism, because I knew the story had work that needed to be done to make it great.
I did get good things. I have plenty of emails with responses that included phrases like it's the best book I've read in a long time and I couldn't go to sleep until I finished it and thank you for being brave enough to write this story.
But once I received the email that hit me in the gut, it was the only email I remembered for a long time and it would reappear in my mind when I considered what to write.
Maybe I should just dabble in nonfiction. Forget the whole literature thing.
You know. Doubt.
But there are two things I missed in this situation that I cling to now.
You Get to Choose Who Will Keep Your Attention
Brene Brown keeps a list of names in her pocket. These are the people she'll receive criticism from — they're her people. The ones she knows she can trust. Anybody else? It's not that they don't matter, because they do — it's just that the weight of their opinion is minuscule compared to the ones who have her back and are fighting alongside her.
My friend Kathleen won't read any reviews under 4-stars. She only reads the good ones. This isn't because she isn't willing to know her weaknesses. She has editors and beta readers and critique partners for that and they are not slow in challenging her to become a better writer. She writes to the 4 and 5 star reviewers. She writes for the ones who know her and love her stories.
You know the people who have your back. Keep them. Listen to them.
Not Everyone Deserves Your Story
In an attempt to connect with readers, I opened up a very wide net of trust. I believed that because they downloaded my book off a site, they would take care with my words and offer criticism and suggestions with the same amount of care.
Nothing gets the doubt gremlins going more than when I overshoot boundaries and share deeply when the story will not be met with care and gratitude. Not everyone on that list deserved my time and attention. And yet, by emailing them my intent to listen, I unlocked the door and the crazies came a-knockin.
Doubt will try every which way to knock you down. Resistance is real and most days we feel him breathing down our neck, working hard to stifle the story that is building in our chest.
Don't let it happen. Don't let the critics win. You know the story you're meant to tell. Cling to the ones who will hold your hand while you get the words out and challenge you to find the language to tell it well. They're the ones who matter.
And when the critics come knocking, point them to the stands. You're too busy getting dirty in the middle of the arena to pay attention to them anyhow.
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