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 . . .”).