The Measure of Extremes

A look at why sometimes writers need to embrace negative feedback and bad reviews.

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Hot is only measured so as it has cold as a comparison. Night appears dark only because we also have day. Joy exists because sadness defines it, as sadness is itself so defined by joy. Everything is relative, therefore both extremes are needed to establish a scale of measurement.

Measuring is something writers do a lot: word count, number of adjectives or exclamation marks used, book sales, stats accrued and averaged. This is because writers are fickle creatures, despite claims to the contrary. We write things for ourselves, yet we want others to like what we write. We may say otherwise, but we want people to love our work. Deep down, under all the indifference we project, we crave praise. We want love.

This is why writers read (and, even though they shouldn’t, occasionally reply to) reviews. This is why writers obsess over sales ranks. This is why writers take critique personally. This is why writers struggle with (usually suppressed) volatile emotional reactions when faced with unexpected feedback.

Some writers will pander to their audience. Often it is new writers who do this. They trim the technical, cut the controversial, slice off the sickening, excise the explanatory, quell the questionable, and lose the love. The writing becomes sanitised. The story ceases to sing, the poem is left poorer, the novel is no longer nuanced, the article arrives asinine; the soul of the words is stolen.

Would you rather some loved your writing whilst others hated it, or instead would you prefer your writing to slip by unnoticed as it is simply judged average?

The worst thing a writer can do is buckle and give in to what others want. Just like we tell ourselves: we write for us, therefore we are our own audience. Critique and feedback will tell us what doesn’t work—which is not only useful, but necessary—however it may also tell us what the person giving the critique would like instead. The former is the part to consider, the latter must be ignored.

We cannot please everyone, and should not even try, for what we will be left with is a mediocre waste. Instead, we should embrace the differing extremes that our writing elicits. Those who love it will do so more passionately, just as those who hate it will react with more vigour. Then, just like the feedback, we can choose to listen to the former whilst ignoring the latter.

If my writing is universally accepted then I have done something wrong, for you cannot have one extreme without the other.

Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.

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