Not too long ago a friend of mine, a writer/editor quite a bit younger than me, sent me an email. She’d received some (petty) criticism from a client. “Any time I get any kind of negative feedback (three times now out of hundreds of projects) I feel like I’m in the wrong business and I should be doing something else,” she wrote. “Do you ever deal with this?”
I had to laugh. Let’s see, I thought. Let me count the ways.
You always remember your first time. He was a book packager who’d hired me to research and write content for a project. The pay wasn’t good and the deadline was too tight, though I didn’t realize how much work was involved until I got started. I worked round the clock to meet his deadline. I know now he was in financial trouble and trying to rush so he could get paid. I also know now there’s no way I could have pleased him. He said horrible, horrible things to me and later didn’t pay my invoice.* I walked around with a stomachache for days. I was mortified by what he’d said.
There was the author who went into shock when he got my editorial notes and refused to have anything further to do with me; the publisher had to hire someone else … There’s the gal who was so resistant to my suggestions she tells all her author friends to request anyone but me from their mutual publisher … The smart-aleck who, when I mentioned how often he was telling, said, “Strictly speaking, it’s all telling (it’s not storyshowing, you know),” although no, actually, not all narrative is telling … Then there was the in-house editor whose vituperative email made both me and the author cry.
I could go on, but I know how I am, and it’s just not good to dwell on these things. Suffice it to say, it’s happened enough that I know 1) it will happen again and 2) it can’t be helped. For whatever reason—personality conflict, misunderstanding, immaturity, bad diplomacy, whatever—sometimes a project will go south, and it’s plumb out of my control.
Generally speaking, I don’t have trouble making friends or getting along with people. My father was in the air force, we moved a lot, and a kid who goes to four grammar schools in six years quickly learns how to get along. But then the kid grows up and, to her shock, learns she can’t make everyone she meets like her. I figured this out when I was about thirty. It was shocking. I was depressed for a week.
If you’re a writer, you expose yourself to slings and arrows every day. I love that line in David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green: “If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready.’” It’s true. But if you don’t put yourself out there … well, you’ve wasted a lot of your precious life. When the criticism comes—and it will, and it won’t always be gentle—you have to figure out a way to go on.
So this is how I deal with it (and what I told my friend):
1. No one’s perfect. Fact.
2. I always do my very, very best. I know this in my heart, so I can live with myself.
3. I also try to always be nice. And kind.
4. Also fact: not everybody likes me, no matter how nice I am to him or her. And that’s OK.
5. But I know there are plenty of people who do like me personally and who also like my work. I have, you know, testimonials, and I can look at them if I’m feeling down.
6. In spite of that, sometimes a project will sour, no matter what I did or didn’t do.
7. Oh well. What’s next?
So there you go. Chin up.
* He’s also no longer in the business.
UPDATE: There’s more on this subject here.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”