Thanks to a comment I received today from an annoyed author, I wanted to talk a little bit about writing and relinquishing control of that writing.
Writing a story or book is often like having a child. The original idea, as it grows and changes within you and then begins to pour out onto the page, is comparable to birth and sometimes just as painful and exhilarating. As you write the story, polish it, pass it around to your friends for analysis, you are raising that story.
When you send it off to the publisher hoping for acceptance but fearing rejection, it’s like the first day of school. Once that book is published and available to the masses, your child has graduated and is at the mercy of the world at large. Just as you wouldn’t follow your kid to every friend’s house, every job interview, and every party, at some point you won’t be able to keep up with everyone who has read your book.
Some people will not like your book, it’s inevitable. They won’t “get it” in the way you had intended. There will be misunderstandings and interpretations that may not make sense to you. However, you can’t control every reaction. In most cases, you can’t even argue it. You can try to understand where the person is coming from with calm discourse and clear discussion, but a defensive posture won’t win anyone over to your side.
Criticism is the bane of every professional, be it writer, artist, or teacher. Criticism means somewhere, someone thought you did it wrong. A consummate professional learns to take criticism in the spirit in which it is given. It is directed at the work, and the impression that person garnered from it. Basically, it’s not personal. Learn from criticism; that’s its purpose. If you feel you must engage with critics, do so in a manner that reflects well on you. Cries of “My baby!” or the equivalent will not bring about real constructive conversation.
A great way to learn and grow as a writer is through discussion. Why didn’t they like this character? Why didn’t they get the tone I was trying to portray? Ask. No story is perfect and the best way to improve upon future works and future children is to learn from the mistakes of their older siblings. Once that book has left your hands, you lose control of where it will go and who will read it. You lose control of people’s responses and interpretations. If you find you don’t like what you’re hearing from critics, listen to what they’re saying and decide if you should change that in the next book.
As a reviewer, I try to ignore the author completely when I’m reading. Although I might be interested in them as people later, when I’m reading I honestly don’t care. I care about the story and characters in it. If I feel like it’s a good story, I then try to analyze why. If I feel like it wasn’t a good story, I go into as much detail as I can about why that is. If the author of the book comes across my review, it is their job to interpret my response in a rational way. If you can’t do that immediately, go away and come back later after the initial impact has passed.
Being a writer means being brave. You pour your innermost thoughts and feelings out onto a page and hope for the best. The bravest thing you can do as a writer, beyond writing, is letting go. Once that story is out there, it’s over for you. What comes next can only be another story. There will be some minds you can never change, and it frankly is not your job to go around explaining what your book really meant. It is the job of your book to tell its own story. If you’ve done your writing well enough, your book will be able to speak for itself.