This past weekend has been a very exciting weekend for me. On Saturday, I was informed by my dear friend, Aimie Runyan, that she was able to add my upcoming debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, to her “read” list on Goodreads. Just having someone excited to add my book to their collection was heartwarming enough, but what really got me was… I HADN’T KNOWN MY BOOK WAS ON GOODREADS ALREADY. I’ve been a Goodreads member for I don’t even know how long, so being a Goodreads Author is one of those simple pleasures of being published that has ended up meaning the most to me. I have revered authors since long before I ever thought I could be one.
While I was checking out my book page, I happened across…well, my first not-so-glowing review. I knew this day would come–it’s an understood part of the gig–but I hadn’t expected it so soon! I didn’t even realize people out in the real world were reading my book already. I found out later that my publisher sent it out to early review sites as well as Goodreads.
What Can Steal Our Joy
I was so shocked, in fact, that I read the critical comments before I fully knew what I was doing, despite the promise I made to myself a long time ago that I would avoid reading reviews all together. The connection to the muse, and artists’ self-esteem in general, is too fragile and should be treated like glass.
For the most part, though, someone not liking my book doesn’t bother me. I know not every book can be everyone’s cup of tea, and I am a very proud of the book I’m putting out there. It’s exactly the kind of book I would hope to find as a reader, which is all we writers can hope for, right?
But I can’t say it didn’t sting.
It’s never easy to receive negative feedback about something you spent six years putting your heart and soul into, let alone disparaging comments that are directed at you as a writer. Thankfully, the dejection was minor and didn’t last long.
Unfortunately, I know too many authors who let things like this throw them off track. (And believe me, I expect plenty of discouraging days in my future–I’m not naïve and I am not a Buddhist monk. I am an artist and my emotions live close to the surface.) But allowing how people perceive your work affect how much joy you have for your art is a sure way to allow your writing career to leave you feeling battered and bruised.
If We Allow It
But it isn’t only others who can steal our joy for our writing. For a long time, I stole my own joy by putting productivity above all else, including a genuine, fulfilling connection to my art. Don’t misunderstand–as I reframe my thinking about how I accomplish my goals and tasks as a writer, that doesn’t mean I’m throwing my productivity practices out the window. I’m just weighing them against my happiness, my sanity, and…my joy. And a common theme that keeps coming up for me as I look closely at my writing practices is this:
How many days, for instance, have you really put in the time with your story (an hour, two, eight–whatever that looks like for you) and yet, because that time didn’t yield a particular word count or page count, you felt like a failure? Or you felt like the day was lost?
From what I hear amongst the writing community and what I’ve experienced myself, it seems we feel this way more often than not. And that’s unfortunate because I’m sure we all started writing for the joy of it. It seems, though, that for many of us, the further we immerse ourselves in our careers, the less joy plays a role in our writing lives.
Putting in the Effort to Create Joy
It’s too easy to get caught up in the external validation and climbing the rungs of the publishing ladder, and leave joy behind all together. With eyes solely on the prize, we will inevitably forget to love the journey along the way.
And what about the negative feedback of our work? We can’t control that either, just as we essentially can’t control the time the art takes. We can’t force the story to open us. We can only show up, put in the effort, and allow it to peel back it’s layers in due time.
We can’t have expectations about how our work will be received because human beings are too variable for that. Once we release our writing into the world, it is no longer our own. Each person who reads it, reads it through their own eyes and experiences that we will never fully understand because we created the work with our own eyes and experiences. No two pairs of glasses are the same. We can only hope our writing will make it to those whose glasses are similar, or at least ready for another point-of-view.
This week has been full of exciting things, like my book going up for pre-order and getting my first real life copies of my book that I can hold in my hands and smell (that’s not weird, right?). It’s also been a week of vulnerability and disheartenment. But while there’s a certain amount of external push and pull, I’m staying steady by writing this blog to you, and by working on my next book. Because sitting down and doing the work is the only thing I can control. And because it’s in doing the work that I strengthen my internal fortitude, that I connect with my higher purpose, and that I find my unshakable joy. This is what is available to us when we let go of the outcome, and focus on our efforts.