Friday, March 30, 2012

Toughening yourself up: The unkindness of strangers

When I was a college professor, I always dreaded the end-of-term evaluations, particularly if I'd had a difficult student for he or she inevitably criticized me at great length. The worst comments came from those students I'd bent over backwards for, patiently explaining things hour after hour in the office or giving them a third make-up test to try to bring that failing score up. I think the most scathing comments came from a student who attended the first two weeks and then disappeared although she never withdrew. And while the evaluations are anonymous and not seen until grades are turned in, when you see students' handwriting day after day, you know who they are. You learn to grow a tough skin.

The same is true in the creative world. I spent a little time reading the comments of readers on my Amazon page today for Sober Truths. I'm selling a couple hundred copies a month now on Kindle and always curious to see what people think. I get lovely emails from people about how meaningful the story was and their shared experience and how they feel encouraged.

And then there are the other kinds of responses. One woman took me to task because I hadn't solved all my problems. "What kind of self-help book is this?" she queried. Well, it's not a self-help book, it's a memoir. That distinction seemed lost on her. And more recently, a guy bought it on Kindle. He hated it. Hated the writing, hated my experiences, hated it all. I wonder what he was looking for. Why he bothered to buy it and certainly why he bothered to read it.

It's a blessing that we don't all like the same things. That there's room for all kinds of writers and all kinds of writing. And once I get myself past the initial hurt, the initial disappointment that someone didn't like something I'm so proud of, I can let it go and toughen up.

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