Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Writing Under the Review Cloud

While for the most part I welcome nearly every review to come down the pike, one side effect I’m noticing after publishing half-a-dozen supernatural YA novels over the past year or so is that lately I tend to write under what I call “the review cloud.”

The review cloud is a kind of spooky place where you tend to second guess all your writing decisions based on past, present or future reviews. You’re almost, but not quite, hoping the “cool kids” will like it. Or trying to impress those reviewers who dinged you the first time around, trying to prove you “get it” and can “do better” this time.

Every negative response you’ve gotten about a previous book, every ding or sling or arrow, gets cycled through your inner dialogue until you begin making conscious, or even unconscious, decisions based on that most dangerous of all creative variables: the opinions of others.

The review cloud works in reverse as well; it can become a kind of “silver lining” where you start to believe all those four- and five-star reviews and start to think you can do no wrong! (And that’s really dangerous!)

Of course, the real danger of writing under the review cloud is that you’re listening to so many different voices – most of them strangers, some of them random – that you start to ignore, or even discount, the most important voice of all: your own.

If you find yourself in this sticky situation, here are some simple tips for dealing with the review cloud:

·       Get back to squares: Know who you are. Know what you write, why you write it and what you love about it. Know that nobody’s perfect, that bad reviews happen to all of us, all the time, and just. Start. Writing. If you get preoccupied about bad reviews, or good reviews, or constructive criticism or unsolicited advice or the rabid opinions of a political cabal of particular “popular” reviewers, you will lose your most valuable writerly tool: your own, unique, creative voice.

·       Write your way through it: It can be pretty hard to ignore the review cloud, but I find that if I just keep writing I stop thinking about it soon enough and lose myself in the words, the story and the characters of my work in progress. The more you think about the review cloud, the easier it is to succumb to it. The more you just flat out write your new or next or current book, the easier it becomes to forget.

·       Embrace it: I can remember a recent review where I was really, brutally and scientifically taken to task for my zombie mythology. I’m talking, I’m convinced this reviewer was actively rabid – medically speaking – when he wrote his review. It still stings, and I can remember my first reaction was: “Holy crap, I should never write another zombie story again!” I mean, I was seriously considering dismantling my blog(s) and sending a certified letter to the publisher, demanding they destroy all remaining copies of that sucker! And, five seconds later, I thought, “Sca-rew that!” I thought of every zombie movie I’d ever seen, story or book I’d ever read, song I’ve ever heard and thought, “You know what, this is fiction! I’m not writing a dissertation, white paper or biography on the living dead.” I slept a lot better after I’d come to terms with that; hopefully, you will too.

·       Ignore it: One of the best, if not the easiest, ways to deal with the review cloud is to simply ignore it. But you have to get past it, stat, and stay there; if you write under the review cloud for too long, or too often, you will simply lose all traces of your own, unique and creative voice.

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to step out from under the review cloud. The first step, of course, is realizing you’re under it in the first place!

Yours in YA,



J.A. Campbell said...

As always, great blog post. Thanks Rusty! Great advice.


Seleste deLaney/Julie Particka said...

Great post, Rusty! I am still at the point that I read all my reviews, but the other voices (besides mine) I trust are my crit partners/beta readers and my editors. You cannot please everyone. If you try to, you're just more likely to fail.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Seleste, frankly, I read them all as well no matter how hard I try to resist. I'm just trying to keep them in a separate place when I finally sit down to write at the end of the day. It's not always easy... thanks for your comment and sorry for the double post!

Rebecca Royce said...

This is a great post and I hate to admit that I have fallen into this myself. Its great advice.

Mindy Hardwick said...

Great advice, Rusty!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words and comments, Rebecca and Mindy!!!