There is a quote above the entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon, the home of lawn tennis, that is taken from Rudyard Kipling’s poem If (written in 1895 and published in 1910). The quote is ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same’. The message of the line and indeed the poem is that it is important to maintain your equilibrium and not be swayed or over react to either the good or the bad but hold a steady path.
I was reminded of that in the last couple of weeks as I launched my debut novel The Flower Seller. I have received some lovely reviews – a couple have moved me to tears but Kipling’s quote kept coming back to me. It is important to remember that the reviewers are reviewing my work not me. It is easy to get caught up in the wrong mindset. As writers we put our hearts and souls into our books. We want them to succeed but more than anything we want people to say nice things about them. Once a book is out there in the big, wide world however, we can no longer control who reads it or what they say about it. This is another reason why it is important to hold on to who you are rather than let your mood be swayed by what you do and how people react to it.
Receiving great reviews is a wonderful feeling but you still have to go back to work and write the next book. Glowing comments can make you feel good. You should be proud of the achievement of having completed a novel. Even bad books are hard work to write. But you shouldn’t carry the baggage of reviews back to the keyboard with you. If you are not careful good reviews will have you paralysed as you struggle with the problems of your next story and suddenly as well as all your normal gripes and writing hang ups you will find you have developed a new set centred around the concept of ‘the next book will never be as good as the last’. If you want to write anything at all, good or bad, you will have to shut out all of the reviews your previous work has received or else risk being hamstrung by them.
I have been lucky so far with regard to bad reviews. But they will come because all authors get them. I was warned recently not to read any one or two star reviews EVER. Once you read them the words will be on a replay loop in your mind and you will either be hurt by the views or stung by the injustice if you don’t agree with them. They will also follow you back to the keyboard and lurk in your psyche. When you are at your lowest and gripped by the absolute certainty that you cannot write a good sentence to save your life that is when they will pounce and every word of those sharp reviews will cut you again.
One things is certain, you will never forget them. Ask sportspeople about their greatest triumphs and they will smile and recount their feelings. Ask them about their losses and the pain will be etched deeply on their faces as if it happened only yesterday instead of weeks, months or years ago. They will recall the smallest detail surrounding the loss and admit they still think about how things could have been done differently.
The pain of defeat seems to outweigh the joy we feel over triumph.
As writers we can save ourselves from the pain by not reading the bad reviews. The bravest of us would be strong enough to resist reading any review. I am not that brave but I am going to try my best to exist in my bubble and not let any review, good or bad, influence my work when I next sit down to write. Wish me luck!
This is the latest in my series of writing related blogs. My debut novel The Flower Seller is now on sale http://goo.gl/UrHYRb