Last night as I was falling asleep I had an interesting thought about my own work and what people might think about it. Sometimes I get frustrated when people I’m close to don’t react to my work the way I would like them to. There is, of course, nothing I can do about this – nor is there anything I should do about it. Nobody controls how I react to a book, and I wouldn’t want anyone to. Talk about a violation. But this led me to an interesting realization that because a book takes on a different life depending on who’s reading it, that it might suck to one person, and be amazing to another. That’s a given, right? But I also thought about how almost every artist I know seems to have this innate need to know if their work is good or not. Publication, public display, awards, etc., seem to fulfill some sort of validation that something is good and worth sharing. Okay, that’s fine, but what about before that? And what about after? Because even after publication, so many writers still seem to feel like they need validation. This might have to do with the fact that, gasp, people still might think something sucks even after publication, public display, awards, etc. Oh, dear.
The point I’m getting at today is that no matter what you do as an artist, writer, creator of anything, you will never please everyone, and while we all know this inside and out, it often doesn’t seem to help. At least it hasn’t for me, and I think it’s because I’ve been missing one key element to a more healthy way of thinking about my work: allowing the possibility that my work really does suck to the people who think it sucks. They aren’t wrong or stupid or ignorant. They just didn’t like my stuff. So freaking what. And it doesn’t matter why they didn’t. It’s really none of my business. The key is that if I allow myself to let their opinions and feelings affect how I feel about my own work, I’m doing myself the biggest disservice possible.
There is no magical touchstone on top of which we set our work and get a yes or a no on whether it’s good or not. There is no ultimate weighing scale. It is what it is, and the only opinion that I feel truly matters is your own and anyone helping you to get your work out there. If you’re a writer, that would be your beta readers, your agent, publisher, editor, etc. For me, readers are absolutely 100% essential, and while I respect their opinions and care about the general feedback on my work, I don’t think they should ever act as a measuring stick. As a reader myself, I’ve read three books in the past week and a half, and while I liked one more than the others, I would never expect my opinions of any of the works to determine the value to the author.
Maybe I’m crazy for only now understanding this concept. I think I knew it before, but it’s only recently become clearer to me. I think it’s going to help with my writing, as well as my enjoyment of other books.