So, I released a new book last week. I reached the part in the creative process where my characters and the world I created from my imagination and research hit the virtual shelves of the Amazon bookstore, ready to be enjoyed by readers. And I think at this stage all authors – whether traditionally published or self-published, whether they’ve had massive editorial input or thrashed out all the issues on their own – close their eyes and cross their fingers and hope for the best. You have control over the story; you have no control over what people will say about it. And, as we know, reviewers can be cruel.
Which is their right, apparently, in this era of product review culture, where literary criticism is reduced to the same importance as the build quality of a flat-pack wardrobe or the longevity of a child’s toy. But I’m not here to talk about that today – I’ve done that before on the blog, and it’s not something that interests me much anymore. What I want to share are my thoughts about why and how authors need to be sensitive, and why we should develop this so-called essential thick skin at our peril.
Emotions and conflict and feeling things deeply
Yes, I am sensitive, and possibly I take things to heart to much. As a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend I am lucky to be surrounded by people who are intelligent and kind and thoughtful of others. As a writer, I have to live and work in the real world, and often the real world is a slightly scary place. There seems to be a movement lately towards cutting remarks being used as humour; towards the clever quip at the expense of others being seen as a sign of wit. Hmm …. I’m unconvinced. Even on my own Facebook Page recently – and bear in mind this is a feed no one needs to see unless they have expressly ‘Liked’ it, and therefore asked to engage with me and my writing – someone made a snide, pointlessly nasty comment about the blurb for A Date With Death. And this is common. This is, presumably, what writers are expected to ‘suck up’ now that we have social media, and have to be accessible and open, and to moan about it, as I’m doing shamelessly here (on my own blog, no less, where I can clearly say whatever the hell I like), is to open up the floodgates of criticism. Which is just plain crazy! Writers need to be sensitive, we need to feel things more deeply than other people, to see the world in technicolour emotions and experience the full force of pain and hurt, along with love and approval. If we don’t, how can we bring these things to the page with any degree of authenticity?
It’s not just reviewers, oh no!
Sometimes the worst offenders are other writers, or other industry professionals. Manners and care seem to have flown out of the window lately. Even in the closed Alliance of Indepentant Authors forum, which is supposed to be populated by professional writers, insults abound, swearing is defended and turned into some kind of debate about ‘creative freedom’ – and I’m talking about proper swearing here, in a context which doesn’t call for it, not the odd word like bloody or shit. When I started my writing journey, the writers I connected with were supportive of each other, not snide and trying put people down or score points off each other by being clever and witty. If you speak up against it you are accused of being precious, and basically laughed at. It’s a shame.
It’s a tough world, for sure
The whole industry is set up to reject and depress authors, let’s face it, but that’s never been a problem before. Writers develop thick skins when it comes to agents and publishers; they learn to master their craft by sifting out useful feedback and criticism. That’s all how it should be. But couldn’t we just try to be a little nicer to each other? Or, at the very least, stop punishing writers for being sensitive. Because if we weren’t a sensitive bunch, we couldn’t write at all. And then where would you be?
We’re all still children inside
My new motto is going to be to remember that we’re all still frightened, sensitive children inside – even those who are the most thoughtless and cruel. Maybe they’re the most frightened. I think of little Jo, above, and about all her hopes and dreams as she grew up, and I wonder what she’d have said at age 7 or so if someone had told her that one day she would knock herself out trying to write engaging, entertaining books for readers to enjoy, and trying to help and support other authors and bloggers, only to find that at least half of the time people are either indifferent or downright rude.
I think she’d have said: Sod that, I’m going to be a politician. That has to be easier, surely … 😉