Here's a cowardly truth about me: Ever since my first book, Marilou Is Everywhere, came out in July 2019, I've been too scared to even open GoodReads.
I honestly don't know what got into me just now, but I decided: Enough. I opened it, and I went right for the negative reviews.
And my hands are SHAKING.
Here are some excerpts:
"What a sad and pathetic story. The summary of this story is inaccurate. Where was this overwhelming maternal love ? The prose is forced and schizophrenic not beautiful."
"For fans of 'I Have An MFA and so I can write novels with meandering 'plot' served with a dollop of 'gritty realness.'"
"Not a good imitation of Where the Crawdads Sing."
"No one in this book is actually named Marilou, so it starts off from the cover not delivering. Marilou is Nowhere." (this is my favorite one tbh)
"Alright that's it, I'm fucking done with contemporary. This fucking sucks. Kill yourself, Sarah Elaine Smith you retarded psuedo-intellectual. Just end it dude your writing sucks ASS."
I have to say ... I feel flushed, jittery, and delighted.
I know you might be wondering ... delighted?!
Oh yes. And not just because I went through and liked all the 1- and 2-star reviews like a kinky freak.
Just for some context, I had been so afraid of negative reviews that I enlisted my dear bestie to give me the occasional digest version (thank you, my love!) rather than looking myself.
I was afraid of finding some confirmation that people truly disliked me, my writing, my worldview. I was afraid that those negative reviews would mean something--perhaps that the people I grew up with who found me to be uppity, weird, pretentious, unrelatable, crazy, whatever--were actually right about me.
As you can see, I did find some opinions. But I realized something: They don't confirm shit about shit.
Because for every person who has something denigrating to say, I say back: "Where's yourbook, babe?"
It takes nothing--less than nothing--to write a Goodreads diss.
It took me five years, getting sober, forgiving myself, examining my world with the most honesty and integrity I could muster, and who knows how many hundreds of dollars in cigarettes and ice cream pints to write the book. Five years, and on the other side of that time, I had become someone I enjoyed being, someone I was proud of, someone with a heart more broken and loving than when I began.
In the arena of what really matters to me, there's no contest.
And if someone is burnt enough to tell me to kill myself because they don't like my book, there's probably something else going on there. Or, in late 2000s parlance: u mad?
Actually, I find that I can relate to the bitterness and shame bubbling away under some of those negative reviews, because when I've seen other people doing something I desperately want to do but won't allow myself, it has made me mean, too.
I used to wonder, Why does that person get to write a novel? Why does everybody love thatbook? I used to think, I'm a better writer than that person.
Luckily, I'm emotionally regulated enough not to unleash that shit on people, not even in GoodReads comments, but I can see that in some ways, I'm not so different from this Internet stranger who told me to kill myself.
But I am different in one very important way:
I found the courage to write my book. And put it out there for strangers to read, knowing that, rationally, some people would love it and others would hate it.
I was brave enough to take the risk of putting my heart on the page. I was brave enough to join the ranks of the people I had previously cut down in my mind. And I found that when I joined them, and did the work they had done, I became a lot less bitter about the whole thing.
But I hadn't brought the whole experience full circle until today, and now that I have, I feel surpringly great, refreshed, and energized.
What I'm discovering is that there is a whole sensational world--literally--full of zinging, living, pulsing feelings in my body--which I have shut out from my experience. The zing and pulse of reading a negative review is actually a lot like the zing and pulse of reading a really positive one. It feels exactly like the day in 7th grade when my crush sent his best friend to find out if I liked him back. (Which I did, although I expressed this by punching him in the stomach.) (This is before I was emotionally regulated, you see.)
Sometimes what we really want is terrifying, not because it feels bad, but beause it feels like too much. And while the whole journey of writing the book has been about the classic intellectual labor of craft/writing, it has also required me to allow more sensation, more thrill, into my body. And hold it. And not fall apart. It has required me to get bigger, and let more of everything into my life.
That's the part of writing a novel that we leave out of the picture when we make it all about the chop-wood-carry-water work of plot and character fundamentals. But it's so important.
I promise, it's less scary than you think it is.
Or, well, it's still scary. But getting under the wave of fear and coming out the other side feels like magic. It's energy to run. And today, I swear, I could run forever.
P.S. This is the kind of work we're going to do in(re)Visionary: a novel revision workshop, which is currently open for registration. There's a synchronous version where we'll do live somatic practices, meditations, and tarot readings, as well as a self-paced version with all the same weekly videos, readings, and exercises, but sans Zoom calls/Q&As. Check it out! And please let me know if you have questions! I'm so stoked about this class. Talk about sensational!