Feedback and the Health of Your Heart
I write intensely emotional books.
I write high emotion because I am naturally a highly emotional person.
The indicator of my high emotion is usually tears. Not only tears of sadness. I also weep when I’m happy, when I see beauty, and when I’m especially excited. I weep at dog food commercials and Disney movies, when my son says his prayers without prompting, and when I get a letter from a fan. I weep laughing, dancing, and singing.
Like I said: highly emotional.
So when I dream up a story and sit down to write it, all the emotion in my heart goes into my characters — their loves, losses, struggles, passions, griefs, and ecstasies. And while I write, those emotions send me on an emotional roller coaster ride. I’m up, I’m down, I’m in agony, I’m in ecstasy riding euphoric highs and crashing lows with my characters. It’s totally exhausting and thoroughly satisfying. I adore writing books like this and honestly I don’t think I could do it any other way.
But after years in both the publishing business and academia I have learned a Very Important Thing. I’ve learned that while high emotion is wonderful on the page, there is no place for it in emails, conference rooms, or any other professional space.
But you know this already, right? When your critique partner tears apart your latest chapter, or you get a rejection from an agent, or a reviewer skewers your book, you suck up the sob gathering in your throat, blink away the prickles at the back of your eyes, and wait until you get home or to your hotel room to cry. That’s just how professionals behave. Professional in public.
Whatever the stage of your journey to and through publication, it hurts to get negative feedback. Sometimes it hurts a lot. So we learn to contain our grief until we’re in private, or at least with very close friends. That’s a no brainer.
But here’s something else I’ve learned… me, Miss Highly Emotional… me, who bawls when the birds and mice sew Cinderella a gown… me, who loses her cool completely every time the Terminator doesn’t kill anybody because young John Connor tells him he’s not allowed…
When I get negative feedback, I’ve learned not to weep at all.
I don’t mean that I’m no longer highly emotional. I am and always will be, about everything — my life, the wonderful world, the love stories I write, and my successes. But I’ve learned that if I allow negative feedback to plummet me into the emotional depths that are natural to me when faced with a setback, I will suffer for it.
And it’s not worth it.
Here’s a home truth that everyone pursuing a career in publishing simply must accept: negative feedback doesn’t go away. There will always be someone conveniently available to tell you that your work is bad. As my lovely critique partner points out to me, the only difference between negative feedback before I was published and negative feedback now is that now it’s public.
The real difference? Now I don’t let it hurt me. Not deeply. Not so that I weep.
How do I make it so that negative feedback doesn’t get to me deeply? I do two things:
1) I accept the honest criticism, consider what it means to my work, throw out what doesn’t make sense to me, and use the rest to get better. What’s the fun in thinking you’re as good as you’re ever going to get? I want every book to be a new challenge that makes me even better. I learned this from my heroines, by the way. They never give up, no matter what the challenge. They daringly fight until they’ve achieved their goals. They never stop feeling deep emotions along the way. They just don’t let the bad ones paralyze them.
2) I remain true to my own desire. I write what I love to write, I try to write it as well as I can, and I enjoy it. As long as I allow the joy of writing to fill me up, there’s no room for the negativity to get a foothold in my heart.
No one will protect my heart if I don’t. And if I don’t protect my heart I won’t have a heart to pour into the love stories I write. It’s that simple.
So for the health of your heart — and your books — take a cue from your own heroines. Even when others tell you it’s hopeless, keep challenging yourself, keep daring, and keep loving until you reach your goal. That’s what romance is all about, after all.
Katharine Ashe writes stunningly sensual Regency adventures for Avon Romance. Her latest, WHEN A SCOT LOVES A LADY, received a coveted starred review from Library Journal (“A lushly intense romance… radiant prose”), and is featured as this week’s Barnes & Noble “Heart to Heart” column pick.
What’s your special trick for staying positive in the face of negative feedback?