The cursor flashes accusingly. Each blip…well, does it? Does it? Does it? Does it? This is a tough one. There are all those inspirational quotes about “what-other-people-think-of-me-is-none-of-my-business” and all that sort of thing. Expressions like that make me think of phrases like, “That’s all well and good for *you* people.”
I am usually calmed by the reassurance that no one is really thinking about anyone but themselves very often or for very long. Or at least, they only think about other people insofar as they relate to themselves. In my personal life, I have gotten pretty good at not caring. I care about the people who matter. My family. My friends. My work colleagues.
I care what my family thinks of me (which is not a lot at the moment, by the way, since the hub decided to “surprise” me by coming home in the middle of the day and I told him I would prefer if he went in another room since I am in the middle of a writing sprint). But it matters to me: that my children think I am loving; that my friends think I am loyal; that my work colleagues—InkWell and Sourcebooks—think I am efficient, productive, and dependable. Moreover, I don’t just want them to think that for the sake of thinking it. I want them to think it because it is true.
I want to be a loving mother and wife and I am not always. I am angry and demanding and I yell. I threaten. But I am loving! I really am! When I am on the edge of my own insecurity, what other people think comes in really handy. Especially if they like me. If I am feeling like a shitty mother, I can talk to other mothers I admire and they can tell me how they feel like shitty mothers sometimes, too. And I can tell them, “You are such a good mother!” and they can tell me, “You are such a good mother!” That is the good kind of caring what other people think. I believe them. I respect their opinions AND they make me feel better about myself. Win-win.
I want to be a loyal friend. But sometimes my friends piss me off. They say thoughtless things or they betray confidences. They hurt me. And then I remember that I have said thoughtless things (well, it was an ugly pair of shoes, I’m sorry) and betray confidences (I only told that one person). And I have hurt them. Enter the ninja of long-term friendship: The Apology. I was so ridiculously inept at The Apology growing up that there is a long-standing family joke that I wasn’t even able to say the word “wrong.” So everyone in my family, to this day, says, “I was rrrrrrr.” Because who really wants to stand up and say, “I was wrong!”? It’s miserable (or so I thought). In fact, it is just the opposite of miserable. It is liberating. Because when I can say, “I was wrong,” all the heat and sadness and betrayal flies out of the room and there I am with my friend again. (Tune in next time for those dreadful times when neither of you thinks you are wrong.)
Finally, the work colleagues. Okay. This is major. We’re talking money here. These are people who will pay me. Hard. Earned. Cash. I don’t think of it as kissing ass to do what they suggest; I think of it as good business. They don’t really want to hear about when I am feeling like a shitty mom, or a hurt friend, they want results. And that is as it should be. If they say the synopsis is too short, then it is. If they say this cover art will sell the most books, then I believe them. Otherwise, why did I sign the contract for them to publish my books? If I am not going to listen to the opinions of people who stand to make the money right along with me, then to whom will I listen?
So far, those are the three major Venn diagram circles that are overlapping around little triangular me: Family. Friends. Work.
But you know where this is going, don’t you? My little world is about to have a very large, very opinionated fourth circle. The World. Readers. Strangers!
When my first book comes out in September, one hundred thousand of my words are going to be judged, enjoyed, despised (I honestly don’t think there is much in it that qualifies as despicable, but I may be rrrrr). <- See! I am already defensive! It is pathetic! It is terrifying. I don’t want it to matter. I wrote the book. My part is over. I truly believe that. If a reader loves it or hates it, that doesn't actually change the book. (Unless that reader is, say, Oprah, and then I might consider a rewrite).
The point is (there are several, but I always feel compelled to boil it down to one in these blogs) I need to decide whether that fourth circle is going to be part of my Venn diagram at all. Some writers never read reviews. (Or that's what they say). Writers have all sorts of opinions about how to manage opinions. What do you think? Do I just pick a time of the week, say Wednesday at four, and like Holly Hunter's character in Broadcast News, (am dating myself again), start the ten-minute timer and simply bawl my eyes out, cry uncontrollably for how many people hate my book, and then *ding* my ten minutes are up? Wipe eyes. Move on.
I don't know. I tend to fare much better at complete abstinence than I do at moderation. Two in the morning on a Monday might strike me as a really good time to re-read that Goodreads post about why it was the worst book ever written. Just so I know how that person really feels. For the book in question, as I said, it's done and dusted. Nothing I can do about it now. But what about future books? What if that reader is right? What if I need a more compelling plot? What if I need better dialogue? What if there really *is* too much sex? (Don't be ridiculous.) And then the real danger presents itself. Authorial Insecurity. (I just made that up and then capitalized it as if it were really A Thing, but you get the picture.) What if I lose my mojo? What if all those people's opinions start swirling around in my head and I am no longer sure? That's why I want to put my head in the sand, because if enough people like my books the way they are, I don't want to risk losing my fire.
Because this whole making-shit-up and writing-it-down is not for the faint of heart. You have to believe. Hard.