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 I am a completely reasonable person. I love free speech and debate. I love forums where people can express opinions.

But I suck at taking criticism.


Actually, I think I should phrase that the other way around: I’m far too efficient at taking criticism and take it to heart way too much—that is, when I have poured my heart into something. I want to play Smiths songs all day long and curl up in the fetal position.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m pretty confident in my abilities. After all, I support my family by writing (my husband is a stay-at-home dad). But I think that particular kind of “career” confidence comes from learning to distance myself from most of what I write about. It isn’t that I don’t care about the topics. In fact, I love to write about things like running and good nutrition and beautiful gardens. I enjoy researching, interviewing experts and pulling stories together, and I want to make sure that I do the best job I can on every assignment. I have no problem with edits, and when it comes to service-based stories or corporate copywriting projects, I don’t get married to the language of anything. If an editor tells me I missed the mark, I’m not going to cry and stress (too much); I’m going to take a deep breath and fix it. That’s because these pieces-for-hire rarely reflect the essence of me. They’re my job. They’re not who I am. (Personal essays are the exception to this, of course, and I have one coming out that is keeping me up at night, if you want to know the truth.) A reader doesn’t like my story on interval training? As long as my editor likes it, the reporting is sound, and I’ve done my job, I don’t so much care. The reader’s opinion is valuable, but I don’t take it personally.

But writing Sew Retro has been a whole other matter, where every single reader comment feels intensely personal! Having it out there is absolutely terrifying, because the book is a huge piece of me. It’s my (other) baby: it was this little seed of an idea, and I nurtured it and stayed up with it and listened to it have tantrums, and finally, it was ready to leave the nest (pardon the gooey, overly sentimental metaphor: I’m pregnant and hormonal!). As the reviews come in on blogs and on Amazon, I hold my breath every single time I start reading. Good comments make me smile (and thank you for all those good comments!), but then I’m on to the next thing.

It’s the biting comments that I can’t shake, and I find myself reading over and over again. I read a negative comment and think, “That’s it. I’ve failed. I’m terrible.” Of course, that feeling goes away eventually, but man, it’s crushing for those minutes or hours or days. For me, dealing with the negative criticism is an exhausting cycle: first, I’m mad at the reviewer (“you freaking idiot, you don’t know what you’re talking about”); then, I’m worried what others will think (“everyone will think my book is terrible and it will wind up in the sad 1/2-price bin!”); then starts the second-guessing (“what was I thinking, writing a book? Who am I to write a book? I’m ridiculous!”), and finally, finally, finally comes the acceptance (“hmm, okay, so this person didn’t like it. No big deal. You can’t please everyone.”)

I need a way to get to the final stage of acceptance and moving on much more quickly! I wonder if other authors go through this too, and if it’s more exacerbated with craft books, where the essence of your creativity is really out there, completely up for discussion and debate? I’d love to know how other authors/designers deal with this!

 Until then, cue Morrissey (“please, please, please, let me get what I want this time . . .”).



 


Comments

09/01/2010 08:59

I'm totally the same way - by the time the book is published, you've invested a lot into it both personally as well as time spent.

The way I look at it, when I'm done brooding about the particular less than glowing comments, is that if I love it then that what's matters and hopefully people love it too and come along for the ride.

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09/01/2010 09:03

I've been covering some local drama where the owners of a small marketing firm were falsely accused of stealing a logo. She said something like the more you stick your neck out, the more criticism you get. I think it's true. Part of the reason you're receiving this criticism in the first place is because you've published a great book that's getting attention.

And just the fact that you are reading your own Amazon.com reviews suggests that perhaps you are a bit reckless and courageous! I don't know if I'd have the courage to read mine. Y'know, once I actually get a book published ...

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Aww, sweetie. As hard as it is, you really can't let the negative comments get you down. You wrote a fantastic book full of great projects but like you said, you can't please everyone.

Enjoy the good comments and take anything useful you can from the negative comments unless the people who posted them are donkeys. In that case, just let them go.

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09/01/2010 11:39

Thank you guys! I know all 3 of you are right. And Kelly, I probably shouldn't read my reviews. But it's like a car wreck--you can't not look. I hear celebs saying that they never read anything about themselves, but I don't know how they resist (not that I'm in any way a celeb).

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09/01/2010 12:20

I left a comment on the 8/31 post by mistake. I'm a boob...I meant to leave it here.

Angie

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09/01/2010 13:13

Angie, I saw your comment on the other post. Thank you for your kind words! You're right about technology--it's a double-edge sword, awesome in some ways, but very easy to dash off something scathing without really thinking about how it will affect the person reading (that's definitely true of online forums). Thanks for taking time to comment.

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09/02/2010 09:25

yup. I too have a thin skin about this (and most things). I also love the Smiths.

My first review on amazon was TWO STARS. Thank god for twitter for cheering me up and the amazing crafting community for stepping up to balance it out.

Now that there are several good reviews on there, I don't sweat the bad ones too much. Which surprises the heck out of me, actually! I really thought I would be more devastated by negative feedback than I am. I mean, it sucks, for sure. But I do pretty much take it with a grain of salt. Even the best books have negative criticism.

I would probably be more upset if I found negative comments about my fabric because that is so much more my heart. I would be hanging out with Morrissey and wearing black.

melissa

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09/02/2010 10:05

I'm right there with ya sister! If you figure out how to grow a thicker skin, let me in on it.
For now, I am having someone else read the work emails and clue me in on the ones that I need to attend to. The negative ones destroy my creative drive, and my self confidence.
I am not perfect. I do make mistakes, and sometimes they are huge. I am willing to make things right If I have done wrong.....but I won't let people destroy ME.

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09/02/2010 11:19

Hi, I love your stuff, I make lots of scrummy retro skirts and cushions on my websites in simialr fabrics! x

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09/02/2010 17:32

Melissa, I love your book! In fact, I was reading reviews of books I really like (yours included) and was astonished to see some negative ones for even the books I consider to be like top-notch, unique, and adorable. I just don't get people--what they expect from a book. But I saw that yours has tons of awesome reviews, which of course it deserves! It only takes a few people writing a negative review to really make an author feel like poop. I think at some point, I'll probably stop looking so much at my reviews (and maybe caring so much). It might just be that it's very fresh now, and still novel.
I so appreciate everyone's supportive comments!
Judi

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Erika
09/08/2010 09:21

When I read negative (and not constructive) comments I find myself asking--what book has this person written that makes them such an expert?
I believe that your sensitivity is also what gets our attention and why we come back--I hope that does not change too much!

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Victoria
09/23/2010 13:47

I wanted to let you know that I checked your book out at the library and loved it SO MUCH that I purchased my own copy. Brilliant! I love the history, which I wasn't expecting, and the projects are fantastic. Great work, and good luck with your new baby (I have a 3-year-old boy and 11-month-old girl - they keep me busy!)

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