Dealing with Criticism and my Brain
Hello again everyone! Welcome to 2022! Feels very much like last year doesn’t it? And the year before that too. Was never a fan really of New Years. Always made me a bit sad…
But anyway I am back again with another blogpost. Christmas was really busy for me again. Instead of panto this time I’ve been on the Polar Express, with a moustache, making 100 trips to the north pole to see Santa (picture below). As part of this I spent my time “glamping” with some very lovely cast members, but without internet. I even got snowed in during storm Arwen and surprisingly the show continued on. Though it was a pain having no electricity up at our accommodation the steam train’s route looked magical with all the snow. After that, and probably because of it, I caught Covid and so spent the last few days of 2021 in isolation in my bedroom, playing Crusader Kings 3, with only chocolate and wifey for company. Even before all that I’ve been quite busy recording other people’s books, a venture I am still establishing, so had very little time and energy to work on my own. I plan to get a load of new recorded content up on Youtube, mostly bits of my world building blog posts and chapters from When the World Falls Down, so keep your eyes open.
Today’s topic is dealing with criticism, or how not to. Disclaimer – I will be providing no hard solutions here, though maybe some of my experiences will prove helpful. The acting, writing, and narration worlds I work in are incredibly subjective and often involve very immediate and frequent criticism. Directors have to give feedback, aka direct, to shape and improve their productions. It’s an integral part of it all. However I have found that I am actually not very good when it comes to the old feedback, comments, and constructive criticism. With my arty side at least I’m a perfectionist and will put in immense effort beforehand to make sure everything goes right. And this does work. Well kinda. To a degree maybe… When I do get any constructive criticism my brain goes mad. It fills itself with self-doubt, confusion, and frustration. Does crazy loops and tangles itself into a mess as I desperately want to make things right, correct, perfect even, despite such efforts in this subjective world of ours ultimately being futile in most cases. I’ll do everything in my means to correct the problem, or if I can’t do that immediately and frantically prepare and rehearse to make sure the “next attempt” goes right. This is generally all my doing. The person isn’t being mean or nasty, they’re just trying to help, to give constructive criticism. And despite how much I try to believe that, my brain often convinces me otherwise – that I am getting things wrong, I’m failing, and that I’m a bit rubbish.
If it’s particularly bad I become immensely defeatist. The worst place to be with a heart full of doom and disaster. There is the old saying “if at first you don’t succeed…” etc. Well my mind at its worst operates like a 17th Century Samurai performing Harakiri or Seppuku – “if at first you don’t succeed, kill yourself so it doesn’t happen again.” As you can see my brain is incredibly unhelpful at times. Not really suited to these subjective creative worlds I inhabit. Oh dear… Thank goodness for my wonderful wifey!
It was inevitable that in the end my book would get a negative review. I’ve been bracing for the first one ever since I published it. There has been some absolutely wonderful feedback, and readers have loved it, but I’m sure you’re similar - that when the negative voices appear you only ever really listen to them. Of course eventually my first not so complimentary review arrived and it hit me like a drunken whale in a monster truck. The first one wasn’t too bad. A 3 star event. They even wrote a longish review on a fantasy website. They didn’t dislike it, there wasn’t anything at fault or bad, it simply wasn’t for them. And for that a 3 star review makes sense.
Everyone likes different things and the book world is incredibly subjective. If everyone on this planet enjoyed the same things there certainly wouldn’t be as much interesting stuff. I myself do not understand “popular music” (blimey that makes me sound old). I’ve always been more of a rock, metal, classical, and videogame music cover sort of person, so I have no interest in the tunes that regularly play over the radio. You’d think by now I’d just change the station but it has ended up as somewhat of a tradition for car trips – I listen to Radio One and grumble/sing my own versions of the songs they play on repeat. But still even then I separate the songs into two categories – ones that certainly have merit but are simply not my taste, and then the ones that are garbage. And generally I’ve found that most things fall into category 1. It’s not for me and I leave it at that. It’s bizarre nowadays when I come across people getting immensely frustrated, and even angry, when others don’t enjoy the same things as they do. Everyone has different tastes, just accept it and calm down. I know, I’ve been one of those taste grumps before. Trust me it’s much more relaxing this way. And so this first “bad review” (well it was 3 stars so a “meh” review is more like it) operated in such a way. They didn’t think it was bad but it simply wasn’t for them.
It was then that bad review number two arrived and it seemed I had made an enemy. I don’t know how. The weird thing was it started off quite normally. I was performing in A Comedy of Errors at the Cambridge Shakespeare festival, and as I was playing Duke Solinus (who only appears in the very first and last scenes) I had lots of time sitting around in the dressing not doing much. Naturally between learning lines for Macbeth and reading I stumbled onto the internet and social media. I went to check on my book on the various sites, something I do every now again, and it was then that I discovered a new review. From what I have read this particular website (and I won’t name it here) has a bit of a bad/mixed reputation among indie authors. It’s one of those places that seems to attract negativity. And here it seemed I had reeled in my first bad catch. I say “bad” it was still a “not my sort of thing” review with the obligatory 3 stars. The way it was written though, the tone, the words, well it seemed I had done something to offend them with my writing. That the “not my sort of thing” elements were written through gritted teeth. My brain naturally went into negative sad mode and read it over and over again. Looked up details, became somewhat obsessed and doubted myself, even though next to it were all these lovely reviews. All the worst things your brain could do in a situation like this - doing its best to summon the spirit of a dishonoured samurai with a penchant for giving up and ritual suicide. I messaged my ever wonderful wifey for support and distracted myself. It helps that I was doing a show, though it would have helped more if I was doing more in it. Eventually though I managed to shake it from my mind and get on with things. I didn’t let it bother me anymore and got on. Hey, it was a 3 star review after all. That isn’t technically bad.
But then something weird happened. The next month when I stumbled onto said website for a check it had changed. It seemed I had made an enemy, somehow, with someone I have never met, with my writing. I guess that’s a power in of itself in some way, my work had elicited an emotional response. Not necessarily the one I would have wanted. You see that 3 star had become a 2 star. This reviewer (who shall not be named) was so affected by my book that they decided to return after a month to drop a star. Weird… My brain did all its usual routine. Self-doubt, annoyance, sadness, everything came back, and I did my best to listen to wifey’s supportive words and look at the nice reviews. If you’re a stranger and you’ve given me lovely feedback you tend to be my favourites. And as always I managed to move on and not think about it.
But then something even weirder happened, and this is the reason I decided to write this blogpost. I hadn’t checked this website in a while but being stuck in isolation for the last days of 2021 with little to do I stumbled across it once again. It had been at least 4 months since I last checked and noticed the star drop. But there under the offending review was a note that a modification had been made in the last 2 weeks. They had returned and sometime in early December. That 2 star review had become a 1 star. The review itself hadn’t changed, though now it felt it was being said through teeth so clenched that they were shattering under the pressure. I had somehow made an enemy. Someone didn’t like my work so much that they returned to this review 4+ months after initially making it to drop a star to the lowest result. It was on their mind, it had bothered them, frustrated them, and offended them. It was so “bad” they had to come back and dislike it even more!
But thankfully for once my brain didn’t work in its usual pattern. Nope. Instead I laughed. The situation just seemed so ridiculous. Writing this now the thought of it all puts a big smile on my face. And from that I’ve discovered something very helpful. A bit of advice I’d like to share - don’t take everything too seriously. I know it can be incredibly hard but this writing world is immensely subjective. This crazy existence we live in contains an uncountable number of erratically moving parts that are constantly in motion. Weird, bizarre things happens – things that are completely out of our control. In this case for some reason my humour, my writing, annoyed this reader so much they had to keep coming back and drop stars from their review. Not the affect I want my book to have on people, but hey it’s something! I made an impression on a person I’ve never met in this crazy, erratic, ever changing world of ours. And to that I smile and laugh. Just another bizarre occurrence in this thing we call existence.
But yeah I don’t really have a lesson to part with nor an answer to this annoying thing called criticism. Most of the time I’m terrible at dealing with it, but maybe there’s a chance my ramblings here might just help a bit. So keep reading, writing, creating, and enjoying yourself where you can. And better yet try not to take things too seriously all the time and have a laugh once in a while.
With that it's bye for now. I'll be back soon.