My husband was reading a self help book recently (which in itself is quite funny if you know my husband), and these incidences that flatten us and kill our confidence apparently almost always have an early childhood trigger. So it got me thinking, why did the awful review I received for one of my stories kill my confidence and why is it still killing it? It was just one review and I’ve had plenty of good ones since then.
Is there an incident in my past that could relate to this?
Yes, there is.
As soon as I started thinking about this, one incident in particular flashed bulbed into my mind. It’s a truly tiny incident in the scale of things-I suffered a fair amount of abuse as a child, but for now I am ignoring that as although it relates to why I cannot write anything but sad stories, it doesn’t directly relate to low self esteem in my writing.
So, as I say, this incident is tiny but it hurt and I remember it some twenty five ish years later…
I was 10 maybe and I was at Girl Guide camp. I hated Girl Guide camp. I hated Girl Guides. I hated anything that involved other people telling me what to do. I still do. I am not Girl Guide material. And I had to wear a uniform and I hated that too. So it was going well.
We were camping in a cow field and there were about ten of us to a tent. A huge drafty army looking thing that smelled of cowpats and damp. I had one friend in the tent. But I was okay with that. I was a quiet kid. I got on with my own stuff. I tried to be kind and helpful.
I had the hugest crush on another girl who was also in our tent. She was a year or so older than me and called Cindy. She didn’t look like a Cindy. She had short cropped blond hair and she was very androgynous. I didn’t know that word then, I only remember thinking she looked like a boy and I wanted to kiss her. I’m pretty sure she didn’t know I existed and she has nothing to do with this other than she was friends with another girl in our tent called Virginia, who was also a year or so older.
Virginia seemed to be popular with all the other kids. She had long dark hair and had brought a lot of nice girly stuff camping. I guessed she was rich. I had my scratchy Girl Guides uniform and that was it.
One morning, Virginia walked up to me when I was standing outside the tent (daydreaming probably) and said, “I don’t like you. I really don’t like you.”
I remember feeling winded. No one had ever said that to me before. I was never mean or offensive, I didn’t get in people’s way, I tried to be nice. I wasn’t sure it had even occurred to me that someone wouldn’t like me (yes, I was that sheltered and naive). I remember thinking but why? Why doesn’t she like me? Why was I unlikeable? What had I done wrong?
I made it about me. When it wasn’t. It was all about her. But when you’re a naive and probably somewhat dreamy 10 year old who would rather retreat from the world entirely rather than confront anyone, it becomes about you. Everything becomes about you.
My friend even asked her. “Why don’t you like her?”
And Virginia replied with a dismissive shrug, “I just don’t.”
I cried. I have a vague recollection of being in the dark tent and the door flapping in the wind, the sun still shining, of Cindy comforting me. I was devastated.
So why does this tiny incident relate to this one particularly bad review? The reviewer didn’t make any personal comments about me in their review, it wasn’t a personal attack. I doubt she knows anything about me or cares. What on earth am I still feeling so bad about?
The incident relates because I was naive enough to think no one would hate my story. That is it.
I was prepared for some people not liking it. My writing is stylistic and that is definitely not everyone’s thing, but as for hating it? No. I didn’t think I’d written anything that offensive, that bad–and there is a big ol’ difference between meh and this is the worst book I’ve ever read–and I found myself thinking, why? Why does she hate it? What did I do wrong? That exact same exhausting, crazy pattern of thinking.
So I have to go back and give my 10 year old self a hug–so what if Virginia didn’t fucking like me. Maybe she felt so threatened by me for whatever reason and she felt she had to come and put me down, maybe she was just a horrible person, whatever, it really doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter because there were a whole lot of people that did like me and that I liked too. All I did wrong was think I had to be liked by the whole world.
Same principles apply for bad reviews, people. The whole world is never going to like your story. Someone somewhere is going to hate the name you chose for you main character (it’s their dog’s name you crazy writer person, how can they take you seriously now!!?), the tense you chose to write in (I mean everything ever should be in third person past shouldn’t it? Writing in other tenses is experimentation and the devil’s work o.0), the fact that you made them cry or feel anything, the fact you book fucking ended and they wanted it to go forevvvar.
Crazy reasons because it’s a crazy world.
I’m in good company is all I can say.
P.S. I made up a little scenario that made me smile–I imagined the whole thing was about Cindy. Virginia was jealous, she wanted Cindy all to herself but Cindy was pining after me 😛