Cat Valente, author of such outstanding novels as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and Deathless, is guest-editing Charlie Stross's blog, posting writing advice. Part one, published yesterday, covered some good ground, and today's continuation is especially good, with advice on coping with haters -- useful perspective for more than just writers.
People Are Going to Shit All Over You
Oh, yes they are. It really doesn't matter if you try to do something different or you just want to rescue the princess in the tower. It'll start with your teachers, in college or high school or workshops. You are going to have to hear, more than once, more than ten times, that not only does your work suck, but it betrays some signal flaw within yourself, and you as a person are terrible for having written this thing. This is true, basically, no matter what you write. It is especially true if you are trying something off the beaten path, whether that beaten path is one of bestsellers or your teacher's own predilictions. I have personally had verse and chorus of "Nothing" from A Chorus Line spewed at me from numerous teachers. For those of you not musically inclined, it goes something like: you're bad at this, you'll never amount to anything, give up and work at a gas station and leave this to the real artists. One professor literally threw up his hands at our final conference and said "You're just going to do whatever you want no mater what I say so there's no point in even trying to teach you about good writing."
We all have stories like that, I suspect. Most particularly those of us who write SFF, which makes no friends in universities. The best part is, it doesn't stop there! Once you're published, new and exciting people will appear to tell you how bad your work is, even if you are popular and/or critically acclaimed. And it will get personal, especially if you are throwing down with your whole being, laying your kinks and history on the page like a sacrifice. If you're a woman, or other-than-white, or queer, it will probably, at some point, get really personal. Many readers have a huge problem separating the work from the creator. The mountain of crap I got for writing Palimpsest, both in public venues and in private emails, would make you crawl under the table with a bottle of fuck-you whiskey. I not only wrote a bad book, but I am sexually disturbed (I either hate sex or like it way too much, depending on who you ask) and politically suspect. Give up and work in a gas station. Name a book you think is universally liked and I will find someone saying it is a sin against man, decency, and the dictionary. People get very invested in books, which is the whole point of writing books. I have myself gotten upset to tears over books and have said so online. I try not to do that unless at great need now. I know too much.
It's easy to say: you must develop grace about this. I doubt anyone actually has grace about it. We all get mad or sad or hit the bar and rage against it all. It takes a really long time, or a really good internet filter, to be ok with how much some people will not like your work and by extension you. I'm not saying get grace at the bargain virtue store.
But you can fake grace.