Sometimes it’s easy to let the naysayers bring you down, and believe me, there are plenty of naysayers in this world. For my part, I’ve always struggled with a sense of legitimacy and often find myself allowing negativity to create self-doubt, even when that negativity is dis-proportionally small. For example, currently on Amazon I have 80 total reviews for all four books combined. Two of them are 1 star; one is 2 stars; six are 3; and the rest are either 4 or 5. On Goodreads, I currently have 76 ratings with a total average of 4.2 stars, with four 1 and 2 star ratings but twenty-eight 4 and 5 star reviews on book one. Rationally, I look at this and understand I should be proud to have so many positive reviews, but that part of me which feels phony fixates on the bottom end. The self-doubt creeps into my consciousness and ignores all the positive. I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. Neil Gaiman, Bruce Sprinsteen, and Hugh Laurie have all spoken of it.
I think part of why this sense of illegitimacy affects so many creative people is the fact that artistic expressions are so subjective in nature. Mathematicians know for certain whether or not their formulas work. Scientists can prove or disprove a hypothesis, and their results can be tested and repeated by others. Business people can always look at the ledger sheet for validation of their ideas. But for artists, it’s so much more difficult to measure quality or define success. Works that are often commercially successful aren’t always the most well-crafted pieces. For instance, Fifty Shades of Grey made buckets of money, but few people consider it a well-written book. A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the best books ever written but was considered unpublishable during John Kennedy Toole’s lifetime, which in part contributed to his suicide. To get an idea of how maddening it can be for a creative person, just go look at the reviews of any famous work. Even revered classics will have scores of negative ones often filled with disparaging remarks that sometimes get downright personal.
Any creative person is trying to create something new where nothing existed before. There is no secret formula for how this happens, and often we are pulling bits of this and dashes of that from various disciplines and molding them together. Every generation or so, a paradigm will emerge that espouses the one and only way to create the proper way, and anything that doesn’t fit tidily into the dogma of this paradigm will often be dismissed initially as drivel. However, truly creative people typically reject dogmatic approaches because of the inherent restrictions, and this can generate backlash from the establishment. For someone such as myself, this backlash contributes to the feelings of self-doubt. Even though I know in my heart that my writing is solid, my characters are compelling, and my plots are intense, when I read a review that calls my writing “poorly written” because I “don’t follow the rules of a basic writing manual,” part of me rejects that outright but another part, the insecure, vulnerable part, questions my ability. These two parts of me, the bold and the insecure, are often at odds with one another.
The bold part of me, the part that had the courage to self-publish long before it was easy or hip, usually wins out. It does this by reminding me that I’ve survived much worse than anything a narrow-minded, so-called critic can throw at me. As a child, I developed a blood disease from a tick bite. At one point, I weighed about forty pounds and to this day have no memories for about a three month stretch of that spring and summer, but I survived. At sixteen, I was struck in the head by an eight pound shotput and not only lived to tell about it but walked off the field, albeit with a little assistance. If an eight pound cannonball didn’t end my life, the opinion of some piss ant sure as hell won’t. On Christmas day, my now ex-wife told me she wanted a divorce as I played with my sons. If losing custody of my boys didn’t crack my soul, there’s absolutely nothing some smug know-it-all can sling my way that could ever touch me. I’ve endured my share of real hardships and am still standing, still creating works that the vast majority of readers love, still growing my reader base.
I’m working on getting beyond my own insecurities and having more belief in myself, and for the most part, my confidence remains relatively strong the majority of the time. However, sometimes the weak part rears its head and makes me question whether or not I’m on course. Knowing I’m not alone in having these kinds of self-doubts helps. If people far more successful than I am deal with the same emotions, then I can accept their presence and forge ahead with conviction. While the external naysayers will always be present in some form or another, their opinions do not have to influence my internal fortitude. My voice is real. My voice is valuable. Not that I need this for validation, but I have forty-five 5 star reviews on Amazon to prove the worth of my creativity. And I have that calm center deep in my heart which whispers softly that what I’m creating matters, that my stories are good, that success is insignificant in comparison to authenticity.
That’s all for now.