“What does finding love on the other side of the world mean, anyway?”
And so began what started out as a great conversation about sports and the weather until this person tried to liven up our little chat by focusing on my book which he saw proudly sitting on my screen as if begging to get noticed.
The guy continued, “I can’t read your book. It looks like a story about people chatting online trying to hook up or something. I’m a J.K. Rowling fan. I’ve read her Harry Potter books, seven times for each of her seven books. I know I have issues (laughter) but I think she’s great. Her personal experience, her ups and downs, seem to show up on her novels.”
Ouch, I thought, as a series of thought bubbles started floating in my imaginary sphere.
I doubt he would have said the same thing when J.K. Rowling was still a virtual unknown back when her novel was getting rejected agent after agent as she tried to peddle it around hoping someone would take a chance on a brilliant story from a nobody. He probably wouldn’t have even given it a second look as soon as he saw the novel’s cover which looked like a children’s bedtime story book. I know because he hadn't even read my novel yet but he's already criticizing its content which, by the way, is way far from what he assumed it’s about.
But of course, I just smiled and moved on.
I did feel guilty for not defending my novel but then again, I realized I had to pick my battles. I couldn’t spend all my energy defending my book from every single critic who formulated their conclusion by merely glancing at my book’s cover. Discourse should be reserved for those who have read the story and had something constructive and insightful to share with me so I can polish my craft even further.
Invested time and effort for invested time and effort, I thought to myself.
They say writers should wear an imaginary armor to be able to survive the oftentimes unforgiving, cruel, cold, and indifferent world out there composed of bullies and critics from – brace yourselves - family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, and strangers.
As writers, we are expected to grow a thicker skin just like that alligator swimming in the swamp.
As a freelance writer and a novelist, however, my cup is half-empty, half-filled on that one and let me explain why.
When I write as a freelance writer, I am being paid to translate into words what my client wants to communicate. I’m merely a messenger that worked hard to filter and clean the tube of communication so the message comes out stronger, more persuasive, attractive, or whatever it is my client intends to convey. If the client thinks my writing is lacking or off-target or misguided and he or she comes up with an adjective that can hurt any normal person’s feelings and hurls it on me, I just take back the comments nonchalantly and revise the write-up until the communication piece is mutually and satisfyingly perfect.
Sometimes I roll my eyes when the feedback is so are-you-kidding-me ridiculous or petty or both but that’s only between you and me.
I don’t take things personally as a freelance writer.
I treat every project as a business and my only intention is to do my job well, keep my reputation as a good writer if not the best writer in the whole world (the universe rather) intact and spotless, and keep my clients happy.
In other words, as a freelance writer, I can be an obliging professional alligator - thick skin, blank stares, open mouth, and all that good stuff.
But as a new author and novelist, it’s a completely different story.
I still remember when I was sitting in front of my computer, rattled yet excited, after I hit the Publish button on Amazon and started getting people’s feedback about my novel a day to two and a half months later.
Back then, I was onion-skinned-sensitive, defensive, emotional, and I had a tendency to hold grudges within twenty-four hours at the most until I’ve drunk a cup of my favorite cappuccino smoothie - and my world was well again - anytime my novel was involved.
It’s a case of you-ding-my-novel-you-pierce-my-soul kind of thing.
Maybe it’s because my novel is a physical representation of all my emotions and beliefs and frustrations and joys and pains and the stories I have seen and heard and known - experienced myself or relived in my mind from other people’s own storytelling.
Maybe because I was a newbie and didn’t know any better.
All I knew was I had invested not just money and time for my novel, I also had taken a piece of myself and threw them out there for the world to scrutinize. What I didn’t know then was, after that PUBLISH button was activated, it was anything-goes-party-time for everybody.
But we all learn, don’t we?
Three and a half months after I published “Fobolous”, I am better at taking criticisms – heartwarming, constructive, or boorish – and learning from them. Instead of walking on cloud nine and praising myself for reaping great comments about my novel or sulking at the cold shoulders and impatient looks when I talk about it, I take everything in stride and learn how they can make me better as a writer which will be reflected on my future work as a novelist.
My fellow writers agree with me, too. Check out their blog here.
I believe there should be a balance between being a “bullet-proof”, thick skinned writer who does not get fazed by discouragements and one who has a good amount of sensitivity and tenderness within that will make his or her writing more transparent, sincere, and authentic to the readers.
I know it’s easier said than done - not just for newbies like me but for the more seasoned ones as well – but with patience and humility, it’s possible.
Back to my friend who thought my novel was a novella about online hook-ups, I’m pretty sure he’d cringe if he finds out I bought a J.K. Rowling non-Harry Potter novel two months ago and had only managed to read the first two pages since because I was bored – not because the novel was badly written (it’s Rowling for crying out loud) but because I was judging the book based on my preferred Harry Potter novel style of J.K. Rowling’s writing.
We’re all guilty of judging “a book by its cover” and not giving fresh ideas a chance at one point in our lives, so it goes without saying that we have to be humble enough to accept criticisms hurled at us and re-channel them to serve us better.
Even if you’re not a writer.
I came from the cutthroat, snobbish world of advertising where you’re only as good as your last job and everyone you worked with were as young and as brilliant and as charming a rock star as you were. But I knew, even then, as assertive and straightforward as we were, we were all just a bunch of sensitive, emotionally delicate individuals within but we strived to set aside our bruised egos, moved on, learned, and thrived in the industry day in and day out.
With that said, my hats off to those who can face criticism squarely in the eye with a smile on their faces and those who critique others constructively. Hats off as well to those who support the unknown and uncelebrated writers of this world by reading their works first before throwing some of them in the trash.
As writers, a chance is all we need.
Otherwise, we have to transform into your friendly neighborhood thick-skinned alligators for a period of time to protect not only our egos but our desire to write for your reading pleasure for the long haul.
Until then, “Alligator power, activate,” it is.
By the way, click here to check out my novel FOBOLOUS.
Rainne Mendoza. 2016.
All Rights Reserved.