Apparently, the secret to leading a creative life is not to care what other people think about you. If you can skip through life sporting fluorescent green welly boots and an orange asymmetrical hairdo then you are well on your way to fulfilment. This is bad news for me, because not only do I not possess a pair of wellies, I also care very much what people think about me. On the upside, I hope that this makes me more conscientious. On the downside, it means I find negative feedback crippling.
I had a particular batch of negative feedback last year that shook me to the core, knocking me out of action (writing-wise) for three full months. I had been so confident about the work before that point, ebullient even. Was it hubris? Critique that I've had since suggests not, that it was simply a subjective difference of opinion. But the feedback was so unexpected and I crashed hard into an ocean of doubt. I feel like I'm still out there most days, clutching onto a piece of wood and hoping someone will rescue me.
People don't usually mean their negative comments to have any sort of lasting effect. They assume the person to whom they are delivering the feedback is robust enough to examine the issue from all sides and come to a measured conclusion. Sorry, but I'm not that person. I know that the creative arts are subjective. I know that everybody can't love everything. But I also know that my own emotional response doesn't respond well to logic.
The irony is that I can also be very negative in my own feedback. That part of my brain that exists to draw the worst conclusion from any situation also allows me to find flaws in seemingly perfect work. The more I read and write, the harder I find it to detach from the language and structure of a piece, and just go with the flow. Perhaps this is good – language and structure are the things that writers struggle to perfect, so any comments here might be useful. But I can't help noticing how easy it is to miss the spirit of a piece when you focus heavily on the practical aspects of writing.
This is usually the part of the blog where I turn around and offer up the solution to my problem, but on this subject I'm not so sure. I think it's tied up with the deeper aspects of a personal need for approval from others. Interestingly, these are the very same aspects that unconsciously led me to write and try to get published. It begs the question: will a healthier attitude to all this remove my desire to send a book into the world? Or will it simply make me more robust and measured in my approach to publication?
At least I get some time to work on this while my writing is being seen by relatively few people and criticised by even less. Imagine, for instance, how I would react to a negative review on Amazon. That isn't something that sits in my inbox, quietly simmering – it's visible like a scar to anyone in the world who cares to look for it. How would I resist clicking that link when I was feeling low, and torturing myself with the evidence of my very public failure? How indeed.