Shake It Off
Somewhere around age twenty-seven, I quit caring about what people think of me.
I mean, not totally. I’m not so “take me as I am” that I proudly walk around without pants, or refuse to shower, or pick my nose in public and dare somebody to question me.
I still color my premature gray hair, because I am JUST NOT READY to be gray.
But generally speaking, I try not to base my self-worth on other people’s opinions.
For example, I don't care that pointy-toed stilettos are in. I hate them. I continue to rock my round-toed stilettos from three years ago and WHAT OF IT?!
Or, when my former colleagues used to give me crap because I worked from home so often, it was pretty easy to shake off, because I knew that I got more work done from home. I knew that I wasn’t slacking. I knew that I was killing it in my performance reviews. Their opinions mattered … not at all.
Or when I got rejected (time and time again) in my quest to get a literary agent, I was pretty Zen about the whole thing. I knew I was a good writer. If they didn’t want in on that goodness … *shrugs.* Their loss.
And I don’t care that some people don't like that I swear. Or that other people think that my genre of choice (romance) is "smut." I don’t care that some people think my decision not to have kids (at least for now, maybe for always) makes me selfish or weird or broken.
None of this bothers me.
Once you believe you’re worth something, once you know you’re being true to yourself, it’s pretty damn impossible for someone to rain on your parade.
Confidence—the bone-deep kind of confidence—is like the umbrella that protects you from all the rain that is other people’s opinions.
It’s your parade, damn it. You get to decide the weather.
But lest you think this is a blog post about how I’m awesome, and how I know I’m awesome, and I don’t care if you don't think I’m awesome, because obviously, I’m super awesome …
This is not that post. This post is a confession.
I am not feeling awesome.
Not even a tiny bit. I’ve stumbled as of late, not practicing what I preach. I’ve been caring an awful lot what people think.
Misery. Utter misery.
Now, I’m about to get real here, people. I’m going to lead you inside of a writer’s psyche, and show you all the unsexy stuff that you don’t see on Instagram, and the stuff that many publishing experts will tell me should stay inside my head and not out there for public consumption, because I’m supposed to post funny and/or sexy pictures, and be fun and vibrant and positive and professional.
So if you want to go on thinking of Lauren Layne as a girl-power author with nothing but smiles and non-stop confidence, this right here is your exit, no hard feelings.
*waits patiently for some of you to take the offramp*
Anyone still with me?
Okay, here we go.
I’m in a funk, and here’s how it started:
I received edits for an upcoming book.
Yeah. That's it.
Now, please note that this occurrence of receiving edits (and tame, completely legit edits at that), should not be a big deal. It’s part of the job. Edits happen for every single book, usually my reaction is either
(1) “She’s so right. How did I miss that? Let’s get to fixing …”
(2) “DO NOT AGREE. DO NOT AGREE. DO NOT AGREE.”
Almost always, it’s the first one. First drafts are often messy, and it's the editor's job to point out the clean-up on aisle six.
Sometimes (rarely), it’s the latter reaction to edits; sometimes my gut knows that the changes suggested are not the story I want to tell. I sleep on it, and then I sleep some more … I ruminate, usually over wine. And then I respectfully tell my editor that I’d like to leave it as is, and she respectfully agrees.
But my reaction to these edits was different.
Note the edits themselves weren't different. They were pretty standard (and completely fair—this post is not about my fab editor, it’s about me).
But for reasons that I don’t quite understanding (the moon? hormones? dehydration? global warming?), these edits, however tame, hit me in the freaking jugular.
For starters, they came on the heels of two back-to-back book releases in the past couple months, that while well-received (thank you to everyone who loved and wrote a review for The Trouble With Love and Crushed!) didn’t hit quite sales goals I’d set for myself.
Cue the “I’ll never make it big” sad sob song.
Then, right on the heels of that, came the immense successes of other authors in my genre, with my style. It's easy enough to separate yourself from authors doing something different from you, but when you look at another author who writes what you're writing (or trying to write) and gets nothing but 5-star reviews and Top 100 Amazon ranks, it can be crushing. Because you can't comfort yourself by saying, "oh, they're different from me." It's more like, "They're the same, but better."
Cue the “Why are they more popular than me?!” soundtrack.
But the biggest blow of all came in the form of Blurred Lines going up on NetGalley just a day or two before I got the edits. (NetGalley is a service that allows reviewers and book bloggers to review a book before its official release).
For those of you who haven’t read my note on Blurred Lines yet, this book is my favorite. I mean, all my books are my favorite, but this book is the most joyous experience in my writing career. From conception to brainstorming, to the process of sitting down and telling the story, I’ve loved every moment. Heck, even after I finished writing the book, I went back and read it like three more times, because I just didn’t want it to be over.
I think it’s my best book ever. I thought it was going to be the one that put me on the map.
But according to the early reviews on GoodReviews? Not everyone agrees.
Cue the “my heart is breaking” violin.
Now, don’t get me wrong, plenty of people loved Blurred Lines. Most people at least liked it. But a handful of GoodReads reviewers are not a fan.
(It should be noted that this is risky that I”m telling you this—an author mentioning anything less than stellar reviews on a book that hasn’t come out yet is Sales 101 of what not do do. But I’m a person first, and an author second, and this is how I roll: honest. Also, I hope you'll read Blurred Lines anyway, because like I said. It's my favorite. It's my dream book.)
So anyway, I got some "meh" feedback, had some "meh" sales, and read some "meh" reviews.
Now, this is not to say I'm not thankful for every single review. Even the bad ones. Reviewers are such a crucial part of the publishing process, of selling books. More importantly, the reviews themselves are so important for other readers. I haven't always been an author. I've been on the side; I've been a reader wondering what to read next, and reviews were what I looked at. Reviews are important. They're crucial. And I hope every single one of you will keep writing them on GoodReads or Amazon or your book blog, or wherever. Please don't think I'm anti-review!
I just don't read them very often. Why?
(1) Reviews are opinions. Getting upset about othes' opinions is exhausting.
(2) I think that reviews, especially on GoodReads, are best suited for reader-to-reader dialog. And as snarky as some of those GoodReads reviewers can be, I have to think they’re not anticipating an author will read it. Reviewers don't write reviews with the intent to hurt authors' feelings. In fact, I'd say that with the exception of blogs such as Dear Author, reviewers aren't really writing to authors at all. As such, an author peeking in feels voyeuristic and uncomfortable.
But I made an exception with Blurred Lines.
Mistake. Big-Ass Mistake.
Some 1 and 2 and even the snarlier 3 star reviews feel like a paper cut to the face.
And those bad reviews coming on the heels of these troublesome edits, plus the fact that people aren’t “glomming” on my book the way they are on a couple other similar authors …
It was like a lemon-juice squirt gun attack to follow the paper cut.
Guys? I cried.
Now before you shrug, and pat my shoulder awkwardly, know this:
I am not a crier. I don’t know if I have faulty tear ducts, or if I’m a cyborg, or, what, but I cry maybe twice a year. Maybe.
But mark it on your calendars, people, Tuesday, May 8th marked the first day of 2015 that I shed tears. Not like a sobbing fit. Just quiet, sad tears in the middle of the night after Mr. Layne had gone to sleep.
I cried over a book.
Multiple books, actually. I cried for the book I got edits for. And for Blurred Lines. And for the two newish book releases that did well, but not as well as others. I cried for all my upcoming books, because I’d convinced myself that those were going to get a “meh” response too.
But that's not quite right is it?
I didn’t cry over the books themselves. I love those books down to my sarcastic yet romantic little soul.
It’s much worse:
I cried over other people's opinions of those books.
I’ve been at creative and professional rock bottom for a week now, and it’s time to stop.
Right now. It stops. It's why I'm writing this blog post.
It's a public proclamation that no longer will I be basing my happiness and my measure of success and my writing mojo on what someone else thinks of me and my books.
Here’s what’s taken me way too long to realize:
I can’t write for other people.
I can’t write for my editors or my agent. Or my family, or friends, or even my darling readers.
Now, I want people to like my books. I want readers to buy my books and love them.
Of course I do. Every single book I put out there is my best effort, and I hope like heck that readers love it to death. Not only because I’m human, and praise is yummy, but because this is my career, and the more people that like my books, the better I’m able to support myself and continue writing books. In order to make money, and buy cheap white wine, I have to write something that somebody likes.
Writing, after all is, a business.
But it's also an art. Books are commodities, yes, but they're also, dare I say, an art-form. You write what's in your soul. You write what the muse tells you to.
Yes, I have to write for somebody in order to make money from it.
But maybe, I don't have to write for all the somebodies.
See, I’ve been inundated with feedback lately. Some of it well-meaning and wise (some author, blogger and editor friends). Some of it from my bosses, and also totally legit (agent, editors). Some of it unsolicited and insulting (I won’t name you here because I’m classy like that, but I hope you feel my stink-eye). Some of it just the name of the game (reader reviews).
Almost all of the feedback was contradictory:
Write more sex. Write less sex. Write more angst. Less angst. More plot. Less plot. More character development. More romance. Longer books. No, shorter books. Funnier. Not so funny!
Confusing as it all was, I took in all that feedback. All of it.
And now …
And now I’m letting it all go.
I'm letting your opinion go.
I may never be a superstar. I may never be as successful as X, Y, Z authors. I may never get my finger on the pulse of whatever elusive element makes you guys write a five-star reviews and tell all your friends to read it. I may never figure out how to generate that juicy kind of word-of-mouth buzz that will catapult me to the top of the bestseller lists.
All of that is out of my control, and I can chase it forever, and never find it, so um, pass on that.
But I do get to control how happy I am.
And to be happy, I have a choice:
I can base that happiness on external validation, and thus shift my writing focus to try and write what “the people” want.
Or I can dig deeper. I can figure out what brings me joy. True joy, not temporary “they like me!” gratification.
And that joy, for me, is in the writing of the stories I want to tell.
The ones where my characters are flawed, and deemed unlikable, but are real. The characters who make silly decisions because they're human, even if those decisions earn me snarky animated gifs on GoodReads. I want to tell the stories that are fun and witty, even if that only gets me a “fluffy four star read” review on Amazon. I accept that review and say thank you. Thank you so much!
And I want to take risks with my books. Stuff you've never read from me. Scandalous, juicy, oh-no-she-didn't! books.
I have story ideas rattling around in my brain that I've hesitantly mentioned to others, who've responded with disinterest (at best) and absolute horror (at worst).
Fair enough. They don't like the ideas. Maybe readers won't either.
I'm gonna write them anyway.
Now, I’ve rambled an awful lot about books in this blog post—more than I like to, because nothing is more dull than an author blog that only talks to other authors.
But I’m hoping you wise people understand that what I’m talking about isn’t books.
It’s not about stories, or reviews, or bestseller lists.
I'm talking about self-worth.
And I'm talking about the kind of happiness that stems from that self-worth. The kind happiness that comes from within because you know that you’re awesome.
The kind of awesome that no amount of judgey-looks or bad reviews or snarky comments or tiny paychecks can take away.
So to all of you who’ve been feeling like I’ve been feeling:
Like you’re not good enough, because someone told you that you weren’t …
You are enough.
Is there room for improvement in all of us? Of course. But that improvement needs to be on our terms, not somebody else’s. We decide what we want to improve upon and which imperfections and flaws or unique quirks make us us.
It’s time for us to shake off others’ opinions.
And hell, let’s go crazy and literally, shake them off.
Right now. Do it right now.
Everybody scramble for their music playing device.
Now, find your favorite self-esteem jam.
Some of my favorites:
Taylor Swift’s SHAKE IT OFF
Mama Cass Elliot’s MAKE YOUR OWN KIND OF MUSIC
Alicia Keys’ GIRL ON FIRE
Play your jam and then shake. It can be a quick classy little shake-away of everyone's opinions:
Or a sassy booty shake:
Or my personal favorite, whatever this is:
It feels good, right? Physically shaking away all that weight of other people's crap?
See, haters gonna hate, but YOU?
YOU are going to live and love and be fucking amazing. On your terms.