Reading My Reviews Has Paralyzed Me

Although I’m always telling author friends of mine that they shouldn’t read reviews, the truth is that I do read reviews sometimes. I stay the hell away from Goodreads these days, but I didn’t always, and I do look at my Amazon reviews every once in awhile, mainly because there aren’t that many, and it’s easy to see when a new one has popped up, and let’s face it, as an author, it’s REALLY HARD NOT TO LOOK. And I still read them even though I know that 90% of what’s in them is what the reader brought to the table, not what’s actually in the book. Reviews are none of my business, but I peek anyway, and I think over the long run it has hurt me.

Why?

Because every time I sit down these days, I feel paralyzed. I have NINE titles out. Nine titles with reviews. Nine titles’ worth of reviews floating around in my head, taunting me. It’s a lot.

I write whiny characters. I write boring, slow-moving plots with robotic-like characters. My novellas are too short and not detailed enough. My female characters need to be more kick-ass. I need more sex in my stories. I need erotic sex in my stories. I need less sex in my stories. Those swear words need to go. There wasn’t enough real language. I need more world building. My characters are too timid. There is no emotional connection. On and on and on.

And yes, I know I can’t listen to reviews, but the bad thing is that I have in the past, and even though I’m a very forgetful person, those negative reviews stick like glue inside my head, especially when I see similar things said on multiple books. All the positive ones? Those seem to flit away on the breeze. Even if I read them now, their sparkle isn’t as bright anymore.

I really do listen to my editor and close beta readers and improve based on what they say, but that’s as far as it should go. I shouldn’t be changing my writing for other people. But it’s like I broke all of my fingers in the past and they’re just not healing. I’m allowing all the negativity I’ve read in the past affect what I’m doing today. It’s affecting my creativity. It’s affecting what I choose to write. It’s affecting me in ways I never thought possible, and I’m not sure how to fix it. Writing is painful these days, so painful that in the past few weeks, I’ve kind of stopped altogether. It’s not that I need constant praise and positivity to write, but I guess I’ve reached a point where I’m wanting to go in a different publishing direction with my writing, and I’m too afraid to do it because of that negativity hanging out in my head. If only I was ignorant to all of those reviews! I could write in that happy, blissful pre-publication state again. In other words, I’m a mess right now and I’ve got to figure out a way to write past all this. Anyone been here before?

 

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle

19 comments

Yikes. You have my sympathy. I wish I had some advice about this, but I’ve decidedly not been there. The only real, public negative criticism I’ve had was from someone I admire so I don’t even care that she didn’t like some things. It’s flattering that she even read my story!

Hey, at least it’s kind of funny when people’s criticism contradicts? When I get paralyzed, I try to recognize what I’m really afraid of and that helps me get past it. It’s not about belittling your fear but acknowledging it, validating it, using it as a guide.

I think you know what you have to do, because you said it as you closed the blog post. Get back into that pre-pub state, when all you cared about was the writing, and not what others will think of it. You know that’s when you’re writing at your best. Write something different – you’ve never been one to be constrained by a genre, so don’t let anything constrain you now. Write a poem or a short story…something short that makes you laugh, something that excites you as you write it.

The other thing? Get inspired. Read a new great book, watch a terrific movie or TV show, discover a new musician.

It’s all about stepping away from the current mind state and getting somewhere pure.

I never read reviews because nothing good can come from it. That said, I can understand the temptation.

You’re really, really good. Whatever you do: Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop.

Julie Daines

Someone once told me that if a person gives a seriously negative review of a book, they are not the target audience. The fact of the matter is that no one book can please everyone. Tastes are so varied and subjective. What some people love, others hate: fact of life.

That thought has comforted me many times. Like you, I try not to read reviews. They mess with your head. But every once in a while one slips through.

If I start feeling really upset, I’ll go onto Goodreads or Amazon and read the reviews of some of my favorite books. Even award-winning best-selling authors have some scathing reviews. It’s a good reminder to me that no matter how well you write, someone will hate it. And there are always haters out there. And for some reason, the haters voices seem to ring the loudest.

As authors, I think the best thing we can do for ourselves, our books, and our craft, is write the kind of stories we would want to read. Some people say write what you know, I say write what you love.

More happiness is found through looking for the good rather than the bad. Many, many people love your stories. If the haters have to hate them, it is their loss. Don’t let it be yours–or your readers.

The bad reviews always stick, don’t they? I try not to look at GR or my book’s Amazon page, but it’s difficult to avoid it sometimes. I hope by the time I have a few more books out, I’ll manage to break the habit altogether! Some are genuinely constructive and helpful, but post-publication feedback definitely slows down the writing process, especially if it’s contradictory. One thing that helped when my book was released was writing something completely different from that book, until the voices of the reviewers in my head quietened down. Try writing as though it’s just for YOU – not for publication. I hope you get your writing motivation back soon! 🙂

Rebekah Loper

I’ve dealt with similar feelings, though not with writing necessarily because I haven’t made it to the point of having anything major published yet.

But I dealt with those feelings with my very decision to write, instead of pursuing other career paths.

My family life growing up was… not healthy. At this stage of my life, I’ve had to cut all ties with my father (which is difficult, because my parents are still married), because he is controlling and manipulative. He will constantly talk (even still, after two years of practically zero contact) to his friends/people he wants to endear himself to, about how proud of me he is. But his words to my mother and, in the past, to me, are only about how he’s disappointed in me for not… going to college. Not becoming a doctor. For not holding a full-time job, even though my husband and I have agreed that me not holding a job is what’s best for our situation right now.

Nothing I do on my own is good enough, and I had to come to the realization fairly early on in my life that even if I cooperated with his plans, nothing would ever be good enough.

Readers are just like that sometimes.

The hardest part is mentally separating yourself and your work from what people say.

It’s really hard when you’re doing it with something where you’re trying to make a living and you do need to be aware of what people want.

But for them to demand it is rude. You’re the one writing the story, and while it’s hard to balance “This is what will (might?) sell.” with “This is what I want to write.” you ultimately are in control. Your readers are just your minions. And they are free to stop reading, but new ones will probably crop up just as fast to take their place. And they might even be better ones!

And as for taking your publishing in a different direction… the only way you’re going to know what would happen is to try, right?

It’s impossible to please everyone’s expectations. Ultimately, you should trust your intuition in this case. And if you make a mistake, I promise it won’t be the end of the world. 🙂

Good luck! Don’t let fear stop you from doing what you love. (Believe me, I’m saying that to myself a lot lately, too.)

Scott GF Bailey

Of course I’ve never been in your exact situation, but my advice is to write something just for yourself, something you think only you will enjoy. Something, maybe, nobody else will be allowed to read.

Michelle, for one, I LOVE your whiny characters. They are very real, tangible, sympathetic, flawed. I am sick and tired of steroid-pumped girl power. Kick-ass belongs in the world of fantasy. You do not write fantasy. You write realistic, emotionally authentic YA novels. I hate it when people apply the action thriller scale to psychological novels. If it’s any consolation, I get criticized on regular basis for having ADHD fragmented narrative style. So what? Not everyone likes it. I also get criticized for having very raw, violent, vulgar sex, without any candlelight and soul music in the background.

I think everybody’s got it right. You can’t pay attention to those reviews. At least you have them. People are reading your work and that’s half the battle. Just keep moving forward.

Linda Cassidy Lewis

Your friends have given you loads of good advice, Michelle. But I know that you already KNOW everything they said because you’ve blogged about it before. Temporarily, you’ve just lost your bearings.

You say it’s the negativity of reviews hanging over your head that’s keeping you from going in a different publishing direction. I don’t know what direction you mean, but I wonder if you’ve correctly pinpointed what’s holding you back.

In any case, I hope you’ll soon get back to doing what you love and do so well.

Jordan McCollum

I hate reviews. I’m no expert, but these things sometimes help me.

Two things that help me: I collect all the positive feedback I get from real people that I know have good taste (like my critique partners, etc.), or spontaneous reader emails, and keep them in one place so I can reread them when I’m feeling down.

The second, kind of like what some people have said, I remind myself I don’t have to publish what I’m writing. I’m writing it because I want to read it, because I want to explore this world. One thing I love about self-publishing is that we have total freedom and total control. If I decide to write something I don’t want to publish, I don’t have to publish it!

Remember why you loved to write: it’s not getting reviews, it’s the writing itself. Stephen King says we should write with the door closed, keeping the audience out of our heads while we’re creating.

I’m also one of those writers where if I’m not totally passionate about a story, I don’t bother. (I write very fast when I’m passionate and edit when I’m not.)

I hope you can enjoy writing again soon!!

Jenn Hubbard

Yeah, I think every author has been there. But your post reminded me of this one, where Ellen Jensen Abbott urges herself to recapture the freshness of writing without an audience in her head:

http://yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com/2014/06/dear-published-self-by-ellen-jensen.html

Especially the part where she says, “Dear Published Self, right now you need to listen to the voice of inexperience.”

Barbara Whipple

Think of what happens to K dramas. For one thing, two people watching a show often have different opinions. Think of Secret Love Affair. I loved that one, but some people thought it was slow. For another thing, dramas air as they are still filming, and often change their plot based on what the fans say. Do you want your work to be like Dr. Stranger? The writers started changing their story to try to please the fans and it became a complete mess. (Although I hear it is popular in China.) It’s like some of the characters got personality transplants a couple of times. Just write what you like, and if anybody complains just say Dr. Stranger, Dr. Stranger to yourself.

You may not like this, so read with chocolate nearby…

In my experience, the negative reviews you can’t laugh off hit home because there’s something there that you suspect is true. If all the reviews are saying the same thing it’s a major red flag.

So, with that in mind, aappoint a dedicated review reader. Ask your husband or a friend to read reviews and only pass on the ones you need. Start collecting the good ones. Print your favorites. Don’t read any more.

Next, figure out what bothers you the most. Address your critics in private. Make a list. Review the books yourselves as analytically as you can. You have NINE titles out. The early books aren’t going to be as strong as your new ones. You’ve grown as an author. So acknowledge that and recognize where the early flaws were. See if there’s any continuing problems.

Make a list of your strengths. You have them. After you’ve looked at your flaws you need to remind yourself what you’re good at.

Consider changing betas and editors. I’d only do this if every book is getting the same results. If every book is getting the same complaint, whatever it is, switch up readers and shop for one who can address that. New eyes can do wonders.

Last, decide if you are an author or not. If you are, you get up and write every day no matter what. If you aren’t, that’s fine too. Maybe your creativity needs a different outlet with less feedback. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your writing for yourself. I know you, and you’re an author. You’ve fallen down before and you’ve always gotten back up. You will again.

Gird your loins. Make a plan of attack. Make your lists. Make your plans. Hang a list of your strengths by the computer. Then write the next book.

I don’t agree that you have to write everyday to be an author, but I do agree with most of what Liana said above. You’ve gotten some great advice from people.

One of my friends recently received her first two-star review. She couldn’t read it, so I read it for her, just to see if there was anything of value.

And the reviewer–while she had some good points–was clearly not the target audience for my friend’s book. If my friend changed things to please her, she’d be writing a completely different genre.

I’m sorry you’re going through such a rough time, and I hope it gets better soon. I wonder if your temptation to read reviews now is coming from a lack of online social interaction? Whenever I get lonely during the day, I definitely end up finding something upsetting on the Internet.

Hugs.

I’m sitting here trying to come up with a solution, knowing that it’s not something that’s easy to do… you just do it. I get this way after EVERY release. And I’m on like, book, I don’t even know. I want to quit. I can’t focus. I pull up my WIP and just stare thinking, this girl is too stupid, my guy is too beta, people want this, people want that, I’m not angsty enough, I’m not funny enough, I can’t write that because she’ll come off unlikable, I can’t not write that because she’ll come off too bland. This reviewer said this that one time and I can’t do that again. This reviewer said that and maybe I should play up that side of the story. And an hour later I’ve written the same sentence a hundred times, losing whatever I had in mind for the characters or story in the first place.

Reviews ruin your brain. I know this, we all know this, yet we still log on Amazon. We still peek at Goodreads. Why? Because as writers we want that ONE. The one reader who GETS US. And I bet you anything you have that one on every book you have out.

When I get into the habit of writing for people who I haven’t pleased in the past, or for people I don’t want to disappoint after grabbing them as fans, I lose what made writing fun. I lose my characters. And you just have to remember that you’re not writing for anyone but the characters in your book. When you edit, then you can think a little bit about reader responses.

So, this is what I do, and it’s a little crazy, and I have to do it often, but it helps. I talk with my characters. I jump in my car, turn off the radio, and talk out loud to them. I ask them what they want in their story. I ask them who they are, what message they want to tell, about their family, their friends, and I let them come to life. Then I unplug my internet and jump on my computer and become the character I talked to.

And if that doesn’t work, there is always pulling up majorly popular books and reading all their one stars 😉 We all have them 😀

Katy Glemser

I love Cassie’s comment above. You already know how I feel about this, my dear friend. Hang in there. You CAN control what kind of negativity enters your life! Cling to the genuine positive reviews. They’re there for a reason. They’re real. <3

Morgan Shamy

Dude, girl. Seriously. I wish you could see how someone like me looks at you. You’re so strong and talented and put together and awesome. And you have 9 frickin’ books out. It’s amazing.

But I understand what you’re saying–not that I’ve been there–because I’m still in that pre-publication stage… but I can try and imagine. I swear I’m so sensitive to what beta readers and editors say, I can’t imagine ruthless readers. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to handle it… but I’m sure I’ll be a wreck… and when I am, can I just come hang on your couch and eat ice cream with you???

All I know is, that when I met you, it was clear you were magic. And it was clear that you have that “spark” that few people have. So trust in that… trust in your ability and what you’ve done and what you’re still capable of. Because I can totally see it and I know others do too. <3

Michelle D. Argyle

I am so very, very grateful to everyone who has taken the time to comment here and on other sites where I linked this post. Seriously such amazing advice from everyone. My heart is full because all of you are not afraid to say it how it is, which is exactly what I needed to hear. I am doing better now, a week later. I’m finally writing again, just a tiny bit. Things will move slowly for a while, i think, but it will all be okay. Many hugs and thanks!

Michelle D. Argyle

This comment is from David. Sorry, David, this got sent to spam and I was able to copy it before I accidentally deleted it!

Well, most of the sorts of comments that you alluded to here aren’t reviews as much as they are opinions. The bugger of the human psyche is that it takes very little negativity to really wipe us out. I’ve experienced this in the past in many areas…I’ve avoided or stopped doing something that I know I’m good at because I hear harshly negative feedback about it from one source. I think it’s important to remember how mindful we need to be when we interact with each other as human beings, be it in writing reviews or in simple conversation.

Chin up. You’re a good writer, or you wouldn’t have the publication history that you do. Opinions are not reviews, and what matters the most at the end of the day is if you’re happy with what you’ve created.

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