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Thursday, 12 July 2018

Criticism, Ego and Humility

So recently I published my first book on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing. The two stories within are not the first I have ever written, but they are the first I have published. So far I have gratefully had two reviews from book bloggers that agreed to review my book. The first was diplomatic; she rated it 3/5 stars which is positive although she didn't 'love' it. She gave me what I found to be a very constructive opinion of the book, looking at the positives and what she didn't like.
Unfortunately, the second one sucked.

Well, the second reviewer hated it. Of course there is nothing at all wrong with disliking the content of a story, and as the stories deal with heavy topics (mental illness, drug abuse, violence, sexual assault) I am not expecting everyone who reads it to enjoy it. However, what hurt more was that the reviewer found the stories to be poorly written and assumed little-to-no editing had been done.

But it doesn't really matter what was 'upsetting', the fact is, I am upset because the criticism hurt my ego. I care about my work, and so when people speak negatively about it - be it my fiction, music, blog posts or YouTube videos - it makes me sad. The things that we value the most are the things that we don't want to be poorly received by others. If someone values their looks above all else, and another person calls them ugly, that first person will be angry because the thing they care most about has been insulted, which hurts their ego.

My art is directly tied to my ego because it is what I care about deeply; what I've always cared about. I spent a lot of time on both stories to make them as best as I could have - of course both underwent feedback and editing, including both a developmental and copy-edit.

This is why it is so important to remember that:

a) everyone has an opinion
b) opinions are not facts
c) just because someone disagrees with you, doesn't mean that they're wrong and you're right, you just have a different perspective on something.

In some cases I could see the reviewer's point of view - both protagonists in the stories are not very likeable. I understand that sometimes it is hard to read a book about an unlikeable protagonist (although in some ways I prefer it - it's one of the reasons I love Gone Girl and The Sopranos). The first one is about a schizophrenic girl named Tess, and while I didn't particularly adore Tess, I sympathised with her a lot and wanted to show how a very flawed person could go through so much but inevitably look to changing for the better. The second story is about a psychopath named Evelyn, and I went to great lengths to make Evelyn as vile, self-absorbed and spoilt as I could, to the point where I laughed through writing most of the story because the girl's thoughts were so absurd.

Neither stories are about me and neither protagonists are based on me or anyone in particular. When I first read Lolita I wondered if Nabokov was a pedophile himself, due to the way he had delved so deeply into the sick mind of Humbert. However, of course Nabokov was not a pedophile, and like me he was quite removed from the stories.

There are a few things I have drawn from my own life, of course; like Tess I suffer from depression and anxiety (but not schizophrenia) and used to have a drinking problem (but never did hard drugs). I had a crush on a mate in sixth form which partially inspired the idea but it was not on the level of intensity in the story. Like Evelyn I was very high-achieving academically in school; I applied to Cambridge aged 17 because I wanted to 'prove' I was special (pretty self-centered lol), and I can be a little vain about my looks but certainly not to the exaggerated point as she does. And I would never want to be unfaithful to a guy I was in a relationship with (nor have I ever been).

I mention this simply in case anyone who purchases my book and reads it thinks the characters may be based on me or my viewpoints; I think its easy when reading a first-person narrative to start wondering if the author is writing about themselves. But to return to the overall theme of this post; I believe that the best way to move past criticism is to drop the ego and embrace humility. I humbly thanked the reviewer on Facebook because they did take the time to read and review a book they didn't particularly enjoy. I have no intention of 'whining' about it or making it into a big deal; it's one person's opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinion.

So my message to you, reader, is that next time someone insults something dear to you, simply accept that it is their opinion and realize that you don't need to get angry and turn yourself into a victim or do something that will hurt you in the long run. (Maturity, acceptance and humility really is a lot more rewarding than yelling at someone to 'prove' you're right).

Link to my book:

I won't put a link to the bad review but I will share the more balanced/positive leaning one:

Related article:

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
I've also published three YA fiction books and two poetry volumes. To check em out, copy and paste this link into your browser: