Why Writers Shouldn’t Read Reviews
Posted by jmdattilo
The agony and the ecstasy. That’s the best way to describe what it is like for authors to read reviews of their books. It’s natural to want to know what readers think of your story, but, overall, it is better to give it a miss. Why? Reviews will eventually affect your writing.
But isn’t that the point, some folks will ask. Don’t reviews help authors improve, point out flaws, show them the strengths and weaknesses of the story? Not necessarily. Reviews reflect the personal experience of the reader and every reader’s experience is unique. Readers bring their own ideas, fears, prejudices, and emotions to any book they read and will interpret the story through the filter of their own perception.
No writer can write to meet the expectations and beliefs of every reader. Louis May Alcott in her book Little Women describes the character Jo’s struggle with this very problem. Jo has written a book and everyone around her has made helpful suggestions about how she can make the book better. She rewrites the book according to these criticisms and the book is published.
Well, it was printed and she got three hundred dollars for it; likewise plenty of praise and blame, both so much greater than she expected that she was thrown into a state of bewilderment.
“You said, Mother, that criticism would help me. But how can it, when it’s so contradictory that I don’t know whether I’ve written a promising book or broken all the ten commandants?”
It can be very confusing to read some of the comments reviewers make. Some reviewers praise our book for being great science fiction. Others say it is pure fantasy. Still other rail that is should be one or the other. One reviewer complained that we used too many “ten dollar words” while another reader lambasted us for having a limited vocabulary. Some love the story, claiming it was the best book they ever read. Others attack with such nastiness that you might think our book was going to be the cause of the fall of western civilization.
The worst part is that when an author sits down to write, these reviews rattle around in his head subtly, and sometimes not-so-subtly, tainting his writing. Gee, someone really loved this; I’d better give them more of it. Hmm, someone really hated that. Better leave it out altogether. And on and on.
Reviews can get in the way of creativity. They obscure the unique perspective an author brings to her book. Part of the joy of writing is the creating a story for the love of telling a tale your own way. If an author begins to try to write to suit other people’s visions of the story, the uniqueness is lost.
The joy of reading comes from interpreting the story from your own viewpoint. Each reader takes away a different experience from a book. Reviews are nothing more than an expression of each reader’s unique view of the world. So, authors, don’t take it to heart.
Living your life according to what others think is best for you is dust and ashes. Creating stories according to what others think is best is the same.