One of the most helpful things you can do as a writer (or in life) is learn to identify the difference between negative criticism and negativity. It’s easy to get the two mixed up at times and I suspect that the line between the two varies slightly from person to person.
But in life you will meet people both critical and negative. You want to surround yourself with critical people – people who will say “I love ya, but you’re wrong”. They are honest, warm and utterly, utterly brutal.
Negative people, on the other hand, hate everything. They will default to use of snark (badly), ridicule and belittle. They are utterly exhausting to be around. More often than not (and as I go through life I’m finding it’s a lot more often than I once thought) they tried their hand at something, got knocked back, and never got back up. They blame their failure on the world around them instead of the simple fact that they never got back up, worked hard and tried again.
I don’t believe that as an artist you should surround yourself with sycophants. I’ve seen first hand what that does to some people in the entertainment industry, how they become so detached from reality that any criticism is automatically seen as negativity.
But, as harsh as it might sound, I do believe you should cut negative people from your life. They are like quicksand, dragging you down with them. I’ve had to do that several times in my life (the last time a few years back) and it’s never a nice thing to do as it leaves you feeling like a terrible person. Given half a chance they’ll make their failures seem like your problem. It’s not worth trying to reason with them, just cut them and move on.
The same should be said for internet and social media kerfuddles. If it’s critical, it’s sometimes worth getting involved. If it’s all just negativity, even if that negativity is directed at something you oppose, just walk away.
Honestly, you’ll feel better for it.
You might be surprised to learn that failure isn’t the biggest enemy of success. In fact, failure is very much a part of success, they are like two squabbling siblings who would defend each other against the world. No, the biggest enemies of success are apathy and negativity.
It’s all too easy to come up with reasons something might not work: it’s too much, there’s too little time, it won’t be fun, it needs more thought, it’s the wrong time, it may go wrong, we may look stupid, we may fail. Maybe when X has happened or maybe some time in the future would be a better idea? That’s just kicking a long ball with no intention of every running after it.
We can all be guilty of this in our lives, it’s a natural state to be negative. Illnesses like depression make it even harder (and I tip my hat to anyone who has to battle that disease because it’s sometimes physically impossible to be positive). But if you have any hope of being successful, whether it be writing a book or keeping bees, you have to be acutely aware of negativity and do your best to fight it. The older I get, the more I see that the people who generally succeed are those that are positive (sometimes through the haze of depression), a little crazy and have had some spectacular failures.
I’ve been pretty wound up the last couple of days. And yes, I know I’m getting older and have publically said I intend to become a “grumpy old man”, but this is about books. Books!
I’ve sat on this for a couple of days because I disagree with people I like. I think they’re massively wrong but that doesn’t mean I think they’re idiots or never want to speak to them again. So I don’t want to say anything that singles them out or distorts what they actually said. Over the last couple of days I’ve slipped into generalisations, and as we know people are defined by their exceptions, quirky little beasts that they are.
So I’m going to talk in general terms and not mention names. So if you read this and think “that sort of sounds like what we were talking about the other day” it probably was, but that was my jumping off point and my argument is not about the specifics. I want to talk about books and nepotism and awards and promotion, and I want to talk in general terms.
However, Sam says something I think is very important
“But if one of them asks me about my book, I’m not going to tell them that it’s shit and hope they buy it because I’m just a humble guy”
I think he highlights something very important – that in this day and age, if you don’t market yourself, you’re as good as dead as an author.
Of course, there is a danger to that. I’ve often talked about “Civilian Justice” as an example where hype can outstrip talent.
Civilian Justice is a comic book hero from back in my toy days. Basically it’s one guy trying to take on the Marvel & DC empires. Now instead of just trying to do a comic book, he’s trying to do it all: Comic Books, Movies, Animation, Video Games, Toys. And you only have to look at the video below to see how it’s shooting well above its station.
Now, there’s part of me that fears becoming like that – a joke in the industry because I’m overselling myself. So what do I do? I do what 90% of would-be authors do, and shirk in the background and worry about everything.
But you know, that’s totally the wrong way to go about it. In an industry that is so competitive, even if you are an amazing talent, it’s unlikely anyone is going to see you if you shirk away. And that means taking a risk, putting your neck out a bit, and being prepared for being a bit of a “Civilian Justice”.
And maybe that’s being unkind, because to be fair, they’ve achieved a lot with Civilian Justice, probably more than they would have if they’d shirked away in the corner. Books are subjective, and not made in isolation, so I’d hope that the fact editors and the like would be involved would act as some form of gatekeeper to ensure the quality is there and things are not being over-sold.
Yet, still there is that worry, that unfamiliar territory, like you are sticking your neck over the parapet. But if you don’t it will never happen. I can kinda understand why so many of these writers put on this false bravado, as they stand there metaphorically trying to sell their books. It’s not easy, and you’ll always run the risk of someone calling you a shill and a talentless wannabe. Yet for every one of those, there’s the chance that someone might actually like it, that it might open doors. That’s surely a risk worth taking, far better than obscurity.
And for all people might think it’s all a bit over-hyped, over-rated and unsubtle, it would take a lot to outdo Civilain Justice – and look how far that brand has come!