Vulnerable, Vexed, and Vitalized

Lily with the letter VOn this Willy-nilly Wednesday for the letter V, I had a completely different post planned for today.  But then yesterday happened – pretty much the worst day so far in my life as a writer. Yesterday was the day Amazon announced the people moving on to the semi-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA). This is my fourth year with this contest, and if you’re interested, you can read about my previous experiences here and here.  Since this is the exact same version of the novel that got me booted at this point two years ago, I was disappointed, but not at all surprised when my name was not listed among the semi-finalists.  

The real shocker came a few hours later when we got our Publishers Weekly reviews.  Mine was devastating.  Two years ago, I got a glowing PW review.  It was so positive I actually went back and double-checked to make sure my name wasn’t on the semi-final list.  It only had one minor negative thing to say, and I completely agreed with the reviewer that it was a weakness.  This year was the exact opposite.  The reviewer shredded my novel.  There was only one slightly positive thing, “To be fair, some of it is actually funny, though…” followed by more brutalization of my story and main character.  I know this business is extremely subjective, but it’s hard to believe these two people read the exact same manuscript.

My body actually went cold as I read it.  I sat there a few minutes in shock unable to move.  Then I read it again, thinking it was one of those things where my mind interpreted it as much worse than it actually was.  Nope, it was terrible.  I actually held up pretty well for about ten minutes.  Then I decided to email the review to my family members, and as I pressed send, I completely fell apart.

I enter a lot of contests where feedback is part of the package, so it’s not like all I’ve ever heard are reviews from loved ones telling me my writing is so wonderful rainbow-colored butterflies fly out of my butt.  I’ve had critiques that made me nod my head in agreement about my missteps, I’ve had critiques that made me defensive, I’ve had critiques where I thought the reviewer was an idiot, I’ve had critiques that opened my eyes to new ways of looking at my writing.  I’ve never before had a critique that made me cry.  Until now.  And not just teary eyes.  Full on ugly crying. It’s been hours since it happened, but I’m still tearing up as I write this post.

I thought about pasting the review here, but 1. It gives away plot points that are spoilers.  2. I never posted my positive one from two years ago either: since neither one will be based on the final version I submit to agents/editors, I don’t think I want them floating around on the interwebs.  3. It still hurts too much.

But having a supportive family is awesome.  Here’s what my dad sent back to me after he read it: “Well, what F*ck Knuckle wrote that piece of sh*t” except he didn’t use asterisks (although he did use bold plus a giant font for the... uh, important words). My mom wrote back, “What an A-hole.” But she doesn’t curse, so she did use the dash.  My brother and sister were similarly supportive about not letting one person get to me.  And I know they’re right - it’s part of the business, and a thick skin is required.  

ABNA

However, this guy wasn’t constructive in his review, he was just mean.  It was like he fancied himself the Simon Cowell of novels.  But there was just enough in his pithy insults that resonated with the feedback I’ve gotten from some awesome critique partners (who have been honest, yet supportive – you know who you are, and I adore you!) that made it all the more devastating.  If his comments had been off the wall, I could have easily dismissed him, but there were enough nuggets of truth in the review to jab straight at the heart of my writerly ego.  I’ve felt vulnerable and emotional all day, and a big part of me wants to curl into a ball and never write again.  It’s hard and it hurts.  

But then there’s the part of me that’s vexed that I’ve let this one person have this much power over me.  So what if this one guy didn’t get it?  Plenty of other people have and loved it.  And I know there are weaknesses, but I’m planning to fix them. And now, I’m feeling the life come back to me.  I’ve needed to do this rewrite since I got to this point with ABNA two years ago.  I have a few really exciting opportunities I might miss if I don’t get on the ball.  And yet, I’ve still been procrastinating.  But this one negative, hurtful person has lit a fire under me in a way none of the other positive possibilities have done so far.  I won’t let him be right.  I won’t let him win.

I am reVitalized.  

How do you deal with mean-spirited feedback, especially when it has a ring of truth? Any advice as I prepare to get back up on the horse?  How Vivacious is Lily with her letter V?