When the movie Eat Pray Love came out there was one scene and one quote that struck me so deeply, I’ve used it several times over the years, whether as a quote to myself or to a friend who was going through a particularly hard situation.
“A friend took me to the most amazing place the other day. It’s called the Augusteum. Octavian Augustus built it to house his remains. When the barbarians came they trashed it a long with everything else. The great Augustus, Rome’s first true great emperor. How could he have imagined that Rome, the whole world as far as he was concerned, would be in ruins. It’s one of the quietest, loneliest places in Rome. The city has grown up around it over the centuries. It feels like a precious wound, a heartbreak you won’t let go of because it hurts too good. We all want things to stay the same. Settle for living in misery because we’re afraid of change, of things crumbling to ruins. Then I looked at around to this place, at the chaos it has endured – the way it has been adapted, burned, pillaged and found a way to build itself back up again. And I was reassured, maybe my life hasn’t been so chaotic, it’s just the world that is, and the real trap is getting attached to any of it. Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”
I always knew there was truth to those words, but it wasn’t until recently that the depth of them slapped me in the face.
About two weeks ago I came across a blog post, So You’re Having A Bad Writing Day. In it, Chuck Wendig penned a beautiful and wickedly funny piece about the struggles of writers. In it, he reminds writers that our bad days are normal because of the unbelievably intense and intricate art that we craft from nothing more than the deepest parts of our own minds.
Our own minds.
We create the world. We create the characters. We use “words as knives to CARVE THAT UNIVERSE INTO REALITY SO THAT OTHERS CAN VISIT YOUR IMAGINATION,” Mr. Wendig writes.
The truth in that is almost as jarring as the quote from the movie.
You see, it’s because of that reason that we are so gutted when someone doesn’t like our words, or our worlds, or our characters. The old saying “it’s not personal, it’s business” is utter drivel when it comes to the likes of writers and authors. Our books are our business; however, they are also very essence of personal.
They are a creation that usually comes from a place in us that we don’t let others see. When you read a book, you read an authors mind. How any more personal can that get?
It’s true that our novels aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
While some love them, others will hate them. While some will enthusiastically tell their friends that they have to read brilliance that has flowed from the tips of your fingers, others will warn their friends not to even open the page . . . or pick up the book . . . or hell, don’t even glance at the cover for it will burn your eyes and melt you like the Witch of the West, or like Lord Voldemort, even saying your name or the book title is taboo and will cause Deatheaters to rain down upon you.
So what happens if someone else doesn’t like these words? What if they don’t like your world or your characters? What if they—whether delicately conveyed or shouted from the rooftops with all the tactfulness of the devil himself—leave their opinions in black and white, staring back at you from the screen at your feet for the whole world to see?
And then there it is . . . the bad review.
What do you do now?
Well, the level of dramatics that come after often differ from writer to writer.
Some laugh them off.
Some scream colorful metaphors into pillows to keep from hunting someone (cough, cough, the reviewer, cough cough) down and stabbing them in the eye.
Some take mental and emotional breaks from their work, often slamming into brick walls at 100mph without seatbelts.
Some drown their day in a particular fine bottle of hooch and proceed to set their books on fire.
Some channel their inner fat person and go on a binge of junk food.
We cry. We feel stupid. We laugh. We want to quit. We eat. We drink. We bang our heads into walls. We threaten to throw our computers out the window. You know, all the normal, everyday nuances of this crazy, and yet addicting career choice we’ve chosen.
Hey, I said writers were creative, I didn’t say we were sane.
Bottom line, bad reviews leave you in ruins. They leave you in the lowest of the lows. They leave you questioning everything and wanting to quit. They leave you believing that you really can’t do this anymore and that you were stupid to even try. They leaving you feeling so gutted that you wonder why on earth anyone else would love the story.
But it’s in those ruins that you need to find the transformation in your own writing and storytelling so that the next one can be better. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should listen to every bad review and take their words as gospel. Some people are just way too overly picky for their own good. I’ve seen readers who have given 1 and 2 stars to everything they read. It’s like “Seriously? Maybe you need to find a better hobby.” Why they continue to read, I have no idea because if I read that many bad books, I don’t think I’d enjoy it anymore.
Back to my point, let the ruins help you find the determination to keep going. Let them transform you and your writing. Of course do not take all bad reviews as gospel, and if they are overly harsh ignore them completely, but just as with the good reviews take the the bad ones in. Study them. Look at them. Look at the way your book and “at the chaos it has endured – the way it has been adapted, burned, pillaged” and find a way to build yourself and the next one back up. We all learn from our mistakes, right?
In the ruins, find your transformation.