My Facebook friend, Marjorie, posted a link to her blog. I confess, I don’t read her blog much– although I LOVE
stalking following her many adventures with her children, several of whom are internationally adopted. But the title lured me in: To my 10th grade biology teacher
I’m a sucker for teacher inspiration stories. In fact, I told my own the day before the official release of my first book, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes. So I kept reading Marjorie’s story, waiting for the feel-good moment, the payoff at the end.
Only it never came. Her teacher broke her heart.
Yet the beautiful, beautiful person that Marjorie is, she didn’t let his words break her. She lived her life, not in defiance, but in spite of what he told her. She found her own path and discovered it was more perfect than the one she originally wanted. Marjorie is one of those rare, truly beautiful souls. It hurt me to think that a teacher took her dream from her, so I commented with my own story:
My high school English teacher inspired me to pursue my dream of writing, expecting more from me than was required in her class. I dedicated my first book to her.
But another teacher who stuck in my memory was my high school physiology and anatomy teacher. He was a new teacher–I think it was his first year teaching– and he had been a jock. He taught two A&P classes that semester and I learned so much. I was fascinated with the topic. When he tested, if there was something we knew that wasn’t on the test, we were allowed to write it on the back. Take an overachiever who loves the subject, and you can guess what happened: I wrote PAGES of information. The lowest grade I received on an A&P test was 115%. I was by far his highest scoring student in both of his classes. But I doubt he even knew who I was. While I was fascinated with the subject matter, HE was fascinated with the pretty girls and the cheerleaders. He always called on them, always gave them attention. I don’t know if he spoke more than two sentences to me all semester. The message I got from that science teacher’s class was that looks were far more important than grades. I was already too thin, geeky, and introverted. I felt that no matter what I did in that class, it would never be good enough for him.
But he taught me something too. While my English teacher expected more from me, thus making me expect more from myself, with my science teacher, I learned that some people won’t like you or appreciate you, no matter what you do and you need to let it go. It’s THEIR problem, not yours. But alas, that’s a lesson too mature for a high school girl to learn. It took many more years to let that one sink in.
I mulled over her blog post and my comment for a while after I posted. For some reason I couldn’t let her message go. It occurred to me that teachers aren’t the only ones who have the ability to build us up or tear us down. Everyone does. Parents. Spouses, Siblings. Friends. Acquaintances. Strangers.
Notice I said ability not power. For the longest time, I saw the two words as one, but now I realize the power is all mine.
This is an important message for writers and authors. We put our heart into our work, and place it on a platter, offering our babies to the world. We hope for the best, making ourselves a nervous wreck as we wait for reader reactions, but no matter how good our book is–a subjective term– there will ALWAYS be someone who hates it. If we’re lucky. If we’re not, many people will hate it. And a word of warning to aspiring or new authors: the more books you sell, the more people will hate your books. It’s a numbers game even I– a mathematical imbecile– can figure out.
But this is where the word power comes into play. If you give the world your book, you give them the ability to criticize it.
Let me repeat that.
If you give the world your book, you give them the ability to criticize it.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and trust me, many of them will tell you what theirs is. But the moment you hit publish, you hand them the keys to tell you and you take it, every word, without comment other than any version of thank you you can come up with.
But just because a reviewer thinks you’re a hack, that doesn’t mean that you are.** It doesn’t mean you should take it to heart. It doesn’t mean that it’s true. Don’t give them that power. The power to tear yourself down belongs to you.
Let me repeat that.
The power to tear yourself down belongs to you.
This is a hard lesson to learn, and if I’m honest, I’m still a long way from truly living it. Some negative reviews hurt. Sometimes I won’t read them until I’ve built my confidence up to a level where I think I can take it, although with some of my books, there are some negative Goodreads reviews I’ve never read.
But it all goes back to my high school A&P teacher and the inadvertent life lesson he taught me. I wanted to be one of the students he talked to, not because I had a secret crush on him, but because I wanted validation that I was important. That my hard work meant something. I now realize I was trying to please the wrong person.
I need to please me.
Still, I don’t live in a vacuum, and I am an artist at heart. We need people to love us and our work. I’ve been fortunate to find people I trust to tell me the truth, people who build me up or offer critique without tearing me down. People who respect me enough to tell me when they think I’ve written something well or if something needs more work. Those are the people I write for.
But if I can take this a step farther, think about the things you say to people. Does it build them up or tear them down? Not everyone has learned where the power really lies.
Some of us are still working on it.
**I HIGHLY suggest you find critique partners and beta readers to give you honest feedback before you ever publish a book.