I’ve read a lot of books this year that I’d been anticipating for a long while. Books that were either released this year, or I’d heard about over and over again through the years.
And, I’ll tell you what, for the most part, I’ve been disappointed. My expectations haven’t been met. These books that I was waiting for, that were getting five star reviews the world over – they completely and utterly, well, sucked.
Books by authors I’d read before, authors who’ve proved their writing prowess many times over.
Books literally acclaimed everywhere. By critics and reviewers alike.
I didn’t like them.
For a long time, I thought I was missing something. Like maybe I’d read a different book. Perhaps the publishers shipped me something else, or an amateur, unpublished author had secretly traded the real book for theirs, and I got to read some unpolished, debut book. Honestly. Because some of these books were so terrible, I couldn’t understand how anyone could give them more than two stars, maximum. Not just in plot and character, but structure too. Something most seasoned authors should have down, after publishing multiple books.
Alas, they were the correct books by the established authors. So what was the problem? Was I missing something? A whole chapter, maybe? Did I read the books too fast, perhaps? Was I not feeling well when I read them?
No, no, it couldn’t have been any of these things, because this kept happening. I’d get my hands on an anticipated read, brimming with joy, and be completely deflated by the time I’d finished it. Again and again. Over and over. It was becoming very tiresome, truly.
Well, after recently finishing another book I had high hopes for, it finally hit me.
I’ve purchased a lot of books because of advertisements or rave reviews or my friends shouting about how amazing they are. Seriously, a LOT of books. And so many of them have been disappointing, or haven’t met my expectations. But it’s nothing to do with my friends or the rave reviews. Okay, maybe the hype of certain books make my expectations shoot through the roof. So high, in fact, that it’s a wonder any book can meet them (though it does happen, occasionally).
But the real reason is simple: those books just aren’t for me.
And that revelation, that realisation, has brought with it an unnatural sense of peace. Not only about my approach to reading or buying books (for example: I no longer trust rave reviews), but also about my writing.
The whole world loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula, right? But I didn’t. It’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read, to be honest. Does that mean it’s a bad book? No. absolutely not. I also hated Aurora Rising by the Kristoff & Kaufman duo, more recently, while it was apparently loved globally. Does that mean whoever enjoyed it is wrong? No. Of course not.
All it means is, those books, and others that I didn’t enjoy, were not for me. They were not to my taste.
It’s a rather freeing feeling.
Because if a book that I hated can have fans everywhere, or a book that I loved can have scathing reviews, well, then surely any book that I write will received the same response.
Not everyone will love it. But similarly, not everyone will hate it.
When I was young, I wanted my books to be revered and loved by all. That was before I realised how the world works, and that even Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings, have their haters. If HP & LotR cannot be unanimously loved by all, then what hope is there for the rest of us?
None, I’d say. But I don’t mean it to sound sad, or hopeless.
It’s a good thing! Something for us to rejoice in. Because once we realise, and truly embrace the fact, that there is no way to escape from bad reviews, or negative comments, then we will be truly free to create the work that we believe in.
Because that’s all that matters. If you feel that your work is worthy, that you’ve done your best, and more, then it won’t even matter what people say about it. If they herald it as the new standard for literature, or decide it’s really quite terrible – neither will matter. Sure it’d be nice to be told the former, and wouldn’t feel very nice hearing the latter, but it wouldn’t truly matter. Because you’d know that you did your absolute best, and produced something you’re passionate about, something you believe in, something you are happy and proud of.
And your passion will shine through, and attract the right sorts of people, the kind of people you want to communicate and work with. And it may lead you to places you never even considered before, places that’ll only help your passion and creativity grow.
Personal taste means not everyone will love your work. There’s nothing you can do about that. There’s nothing you can do about negative reviews, or unconstructive criticism. Or people who don’t understand your words, who don’t get it.
All you can do is use what talents you’ve been given to the best of your ability.
I wish you the best of luck. It’s a hard road. But it’s been made easier for me after embracing this truth. That everyone is different, and your work will speak differently to everyone who reads it. It isn’t your job to cater to everyone’s tastes and needs. Your job is to do the work, and to be happy with the work. Once it’s out of your hands, you must sit back and let it leave its mark.
Hopefully it’s a mostly good mark. But even if it isn’t, even if barely leaves a mark, take joy in the fact that you did it. You produced something filled with passion, something you’re proud of. Negative reviews can’t take that away from you. Your pride doesn’t depend on the enjoyment of other people.
You did it. Be proud. Be happy.
And then keep writing.