We can be scared together.
Here’s an Amazon review about my first book, 50 Ways To Say You’re Awesome. It goes:
“Awful. I thought these would be cute, preprinted notes that I could send to friends. But each one uses the word ‘Awesome’ in some over-the-top silly way. I am a grown woman who enjoys sending encouraging notes to my friends, but these are very juvenile (think pre-teen). I wish I could return them. Unless you are 8-12, don’t buy these.”
Here’s a Goodreads review about my first novel. Spoiler alert: they didn’t like it.
“Did not finish due to the main character being so unlikeable […] The writing is mediocre with nothing but excessive commas, especially where they’re redundant and never should have been considered […] I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from the writing.”
And then there’s another book project — a journal with daily questions for couples to answer together. I got hired by a publisher called Potter Style to write 365 questions for this journal. I loved the project and I was proud of how it turned out. It ended up being a #1 bestseller, multiple years running. But, uh, not everyone loved it. Here’s one review:
“Questions are boring. I expected this to have some depth to it.”
When I see negative reviews about my work, it stings. I wish I could say, “It doesn’t bother me at all — not even for one single second — because my confidence is unshakable!” but that just isn’t true. The truth is that… it hurts.
If you’re a chef and someone spits out your food, that’s not fun to witness. If you’re a writer and someone posts a 1-star review about your latest art project, that’s not much fun, either. Nobody wants that to happen.
But it does happen.
And then what?
How can we survive moments like that? How can we take in that kind of criticism and then choose to keep creating, without giving up? Without curling into a ball and hiding forever? How? When sometimes, it hurts so much?
The answer is different for everyone, but this is what helps me:
– I minimize my exposure to the negativity. I try not to obsessively soak in feedback, either positive or negative. I stay away… ish. This is part of the reason why I deactivated the comments section on my blog. I like having a bit of separation. For me, this feels healthy.
– However, when I receive an especially kind message from someone — like, “This really helped me,” “I got so inspired,” “I couldn’t stop reading,” “I loved this!” — I will save it. I have a special email folder where I put encouraging messages from clients, colleagues, customers, and strangers from various corners of the Internet. I dip inside and re-read a few emails when I’m feeling shaky. This helps to remind me, “OK, not everyone likes my work… but hey, some people do! Maybe I’m not a flaming garbage pile after all! Hooray!”
– I try to model the behavior that I’d like to see in the world. I don’t post vicious reviews. I don’t post snarky blog comments. I believe that words hold great power — the power to start wars, to make peace, to harm or heal. So, if I’m going to write a public statement about something, I try to write as if the creator is sitting directly next to me. As if we’re having a conversation together over coffee. As if they’re my friend, my mom, my sister, my brother. You know. As if they’re a human being with feelings. Because they are.
– I remind myself that it is not possible for me to create a “perfect piece of writing” that delights seven billion people and upsets zero people. No matter what I say — and no matter how I say it — someone, somewhere, is going to be delighted, and someone, somewhere, is going to be unimpressed. There’s no getting around this fact. That’s just how writing / reading works.
– I remind myself that all of my heroes have endured criticism, too. The Obamas. RuPaul. Even shining beacons of love and compassion like Fred Rogers and Ellen DeGeneres. Even talented actors like Mark Ruffalo, who got rejected 600 times before he had a successful audition and booked his first role. Everyone goes through rough patches and ego-bruising moments. Everyone.
– When things get really tough, I cry, and then I blow my nose, and then I watch Jennifer Lopez music videos (like this one) until I feel better. Seriously. It helps.
If you feel scared about “putting yourself out there,” please know that I feel scared, too.
And all the people you admire — celebrities, bestselling authors, award-winning business owners, podcasters who release new episodes relentlessly — they all get scared, too.
This is me, reaching through the Internet tunnels to hold your hand and say, “If you’re scared of criticism, negativity, bullying, angry customers demanding refunds, all that stuff, it’s OK. I’m scared, too. We can be scared together.”
Scared but still creating.
Scared but still publishing.
Scared but still willing to make art.
At the end of my life, when I look back on my body of work — books, classes, programs, poems, drawings, clients and students I’ve connected with, memories made, and moments of excitement, creativity, and joy — I don’t think I’ll even remember the occasional 1-star reviews. They won’t matter. I’ll remember the bright spots. And I will feel proud. I will know, “I made my art. I made my mark. My little dent in the universe. My little ripple in the water. I did it. I could have quit but I didn’t.”
You’ll have many opportunities to quit, too. But please don’t.
I know it hurts sometimes, but onward we go. My hand in yours, clasping tight.
It’s going to be OK. Not everyone will adore you. Nonetheless, it’s OK.
We’re going to be brave. We’re going to keep marching.
And we’re going to survive.