In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says, “Don’t identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture.”
In The Four Agreements, a Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz, the second agreement is: Don’t take anything personally. Ruiz offers the sage words, “When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
The words of these and other wise teachers accompanied me as I put my novel, Other Wise, out into the world. Thus, when I found my first negative customer review online, it took only a moment for me to right myself. But it did take a moment. I acknowledge that first pang wholeheartedly. I acknowledge it as a valuable teaching wrapped in a wounding, however brief.
Until then, I’d received a deluge of positive comments in my inbox and in person. A local book group gave Other Wise rave reviews and urged me to hurry up with the next one. I was flooded with relief as enthusiastic messages poured in. Readers were loving Margaret and this cast of characters who’d come through me onto the page. The metaphorical child I’d sent out into the world was being warmly received and embraced.
Except, of course, by Judy, the Amazon customer who gave it three stars. The woman who only finished it because she had paid for it. The woman who found it slow and boring and would not recommend it.
And … onward.
Actually, I thank Judy for her honesty in critiquing the book that did not speak to her need. She was the first but she will not be the only. And though I did not need her commentary to humble me, I needed to experience it and pass through it. I needed to remember, too, that the positive reviews are also not about me.
This keeps me humbly grateful that I get to live the writing life. It reminds me to stay fluid and awake to those great moments of which Natalie Goldberg speaks. It reminds me to keep sending those captured words out, trusting they will find those who need them — those who will take them into some deep corner of their being. A corner that has nothing to do with me.