So, it goes like this: You finish your novel (or short story or poem – substitute your own medium here), and decide to put it ‘out there’ for feedback. Maybe you post some chapters on your blog, maybe you submit to a peer review website, maybe you’re really brave and you send it out to an agent, or even pay for a professional critique.

You get some responses. In the main, people love it. You think: That’s nice, and it’s so kind of them to say so. More people read it, more positive things are said, or written, about your work.

And then, it happens. A bad review. As you read it, your heart sinks. Never mind that some of the comments make you wonder whether they actually read the piece properly, never mind that it is – and you know this, you keep telling yourself this – just one person’s opinion after all. There is just a tiny part of your brain, a nasty but persistent voice, that tells you: This is the truth about your work, and everyone else was simply too nice to say so.

What is going on here? In the face of, say, thirty positive reviews, why would you pay more attention, and give more credibility, to one bad review? I think there must be some universal equation we need to adhere to in order to feel OK about our writing:

G x 100 = B x 1 (G is a good review and B is – you guessed it!)

So if it really takes a hundred good reviews to offset one bad one, what does this say about our writerly self esteem? My husband (psychologist and all-round very wise person) says that this is a normal reaction – we seek out negative messages and pay more attention to them, and it’s all down to some evolutionary theory about perception of threat. Or something. I wasn’t really listening – I was thinking about my bad review.

English: "A Venerable Orang-outang",...
Image via Wikipedia

But I’ve decided to buck the trend – even if thousands of years of evolution are against me. I am not going to allow one person’s opinion to weigh more on the scales of feedback. We must learn to take a balanced view – don’t waste the opportunity to learn something useful about your work (even the most deranged reviewer occasionally has a point), but don’t ever let it knock your confidence.

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