It's Not You, It's the Writing

Sunday Letter | #4

Today was the 24-Hour Book Club reading of These Days, and I was home for most of it, following along on Twitter. When evening came and a group of readers had finished the book, I joined them for a Google Hangout.

Screen grab of Google Video Chat

A question came up: What was it like seeing people’s reactions to the book in real-time?

My answer: It was exciting. And incredibly nerve-racking.

The ability to take criticism, to me, is something you need to have if you want to be great in any creative field. Criticism can be hard to handle because we see this thing we’ve made as a part of ourselves, and when our work is being criticized, it’s as though we’re being criticized. When our work is praised, our egos get a boost, but this too can impede our progress. Overly negative feedback leads to paralysis; overly positive feedback leads to complacency. Early on we can seek those who know how to temper useful, critical feedback to make it more palatable, but at some point, we have to put our work out there.

When feedback sends me reeling, I try to remember: It’s not you, it’s the writing.

It’s not an aspect of your personage you have no control over, it’s the writing. It’s the thing you created at a certain time, under a certain set of circumstances. It’s not you, it’s the writing, because the writing, you can easily work on. The writing, you can easily improve.

Even when the criticism is addressed to you, when it says, the author is this and the author is that, it’s really about the writing. It’s really the reader reacting to the writing. If the reader knows nothing about you beyond this thing you wrote, how can they make an accurate judgement about the person you are today, based on what is essentially a relic of your past? Conversely, if the reader is a friend, they are more likely to know the real you. They are more able to separate you from the thing you’ve made, just as they wouldn’t think less of you because happened to get a bad haircut.

It’s not you, it’s the haircut. And it’s the writing. So you take the criticism and weigh it against all the other criticism, and you write and take the criticism and write and it gets easier and your writing gets better. And you are still you.