This blog post was originally posted on www.writingwenches.com on October 22, 2014.
Unless you have been living under a rock lately, if you are even marginally interested in writing, blogging or reading, you may have heard of the unfortunate article of Kathleen Hale where she discussed trying to find a blogger who left a harsh review on her book.
Well, if you have not read it (be prepared, its long) Hale’s article appeared in The Guardian, and is available online. The short of it: a blogger named Blythe Harris left an unforgiving review on Hale’s book, thus begun a bizarre tale of back and forth of online identities, catfish, fake accounts, etc. Hale, in her own article, admitted that she hit rock bottom when she found herself standing on the doorstep of Harris.
Personally, what fascinates me about this Hale/Harris thing is the end game for both parties. What did the other hope to achieve. In Hale’s case, what was the point of stalking Harris? And Harris — secret identity, lying? Why? It’s more than just a study in psychology, it’s a study in sociology where the lines are forever getting blurred of what is socially acceptable behavior with twenty-four access to social media. The access to information and in many cases, opportunities for prowling, is relentless to the obsessive mind.
I get Hale’s reaction. I really do. Writing is personal. Every word you leave on paper is a part of you so when someone leaves a harsh, unfounded review it’s like death by a thousand paper cuts. But it does not justify her actions. While I appreciate her honesty, and there is some degree of self-awareness on her part, her choices are perplexing. Though they are no more confounding than Harris’. Because she has remained silent, no one really knows Harris’ side of the story but based on Hale’s version, Harris sounds as stable as a canoe.
I’m not exactly sure if there was a point to Hale’s article in The Guardian. If she had anything substantial to say or have learned from the experience, and I’ve missed it, please let me know. As far as I can tell it’s no more than a re-telling of a writer’s descent into the rabbit hole of bad reviews and social media.
I am not writing this to take sides because frankly neither party comes to the table with clean hands. But I think Hale’s experience is an important cautionary tale for writers that can be succinctly summed up in one word: DON’T. If you have to read the bad reviews, don’t let them mess with your head. Read the good reviews to balance the bad. No one is perfect. Expect bad reviews, and take them for what you can learn from them. The reviews you cannot learn from dump them from your memory bank and move on. But the most important things are:
1. Don’t do a background check on your reviewer (sure its legal but its just not “nice” and in a world full of cray-cray, its just nice to be nice).
2. Don’t go to your reviewer’s house (unless you’re suicidal and want to risk being shot as an intruder).
3. Don’t call their place of business and lie your way through talking to the reviewer (because you can accomplish more by folding your laundry, and really, there is just no point to this).
4. Don’t spend hours culling someone’s internet activity (I have it on good authority that time online is better spent looking for pictures of hot guys or gals for your next protagonist).
5. Don’t go insane. If you think you are, go join three-dimensional people. Go for a run. Drink wine. Drink coffee. Eat cake (preferably chocolate) but for crying out loud try to stay sane.
And finally a “DO”. Do let go. As much as you love your work, and as much as you think it’s the greatest literary piece since Catcher in the Rye, let go. How the world reacts to your writing is not within your control, but you can control how you react to your readers. Remember, good or bad reactions are better than indifference.