The Road from Disappointment to Gratitude

This past week I was celebrating eleven happily married years with my wonderful husband in the Caribbean. On our last full day of turquoise water and swaying palm trees, I was alerted to a book review by a tweet. This was a review I had pursued in November (of my first book). And it was the furthest thing from my mind in Punta Cana.

I eagerly clicked on the Book Review by Sarah Young blog link, anticipating an affirming review. And as I began reading, I felt my heart sink into a sea of disappointment. Before you click on the link to read it for yourself, please allow me to elaborate on my emotional response.

I'll let you read the full review yourself, if interested. Sarah actually said a lot of positive things about my book and testimony. She didn't write anything harsh or overtly critical. But I'm going to be painfully honest in revealing my emotional response. Because I've enjoyed so many glowing words about my writing from readers (friends and strangers alike), I never stopped to think about how a professional writer would review my writing. I've been hearing what a good writer I am from enough people to start believing that perhaps I am a good writer! (This is embarrassing to admit, but that has never stopped me before.) Some of Sarah's comments deflated me to the point that I couldn't get my mind fully engaged with paradise again. I found my thoughts continually floating away from my romantic reality and pondering what I initially perceived as an embarrassing review.

I looked right past all the positive comments and focused on a few select words. Instead of saying my writing was good, she said "the writing wasn't terrible" (like she normally expects from self-published authors). In fact, she went on to say "Sheri's writing isn't bad at all." Yeah, that'll knock you down a few pegs (especially in combination with the misspelled name) when you're hoping for more glowing adjectives.

I hope my humor is translating through the keyboard. I'm laughing at myself as I'm sharing this. My disappointment was all about my expectations. The review was not unkind. She simply didn't "love" my writing style. My pride was a little wounded. But I don't have a problem with the reviewer. I don't even care that she accidentally misspelled my name in that one place. My name gets misspelled all the time. That is ONE thing I don't take personally.

I am grateful that Sarah explained what it was about my writing that initially distracted her. My editor did not mention to me that I might be using "I" or "however" repetitively to begin sentences. I can guarantee that overuse of those words in future writing will be something I consciously avoid. I hope she reviews my second book too. I'm curious to know if she sees improvement in my writing.

After a brief spell of ruminating incessantly on the words "wasn't terrible" to describe my writing, I emerged from the cloud. I reflected on other times when I have received criticism so deeply that I allowed it to eclipse everything else. I decided to set it aside and reread the review in a day or two. When I did that this morning, I read it much differently. I came to it with different expectations and, to my surprise, I no longer felt any sting from the words that had initially caused me to cringe. I was able to embrace the review, including the honest criticism. And I'm grateful.

I also read a blog post this morning (Own What You Know) as I was in the process of embracing the review. The message of this post was exactly what I needed to be reminded of. Thank you, Denise DiNoto! I agree with everything you wrote. And yet, I couldn't say those words to myself. I needed you to say them TO me. And as I read your post, I realized that I have done what you advocate. And I'm doing it still.

I didn't write either of my books so I could be praised for my ability to write. I do want to be a good writer. But writing is not my vocation, it's my vehicle. My vocation, my calling in life, is to connect with and help others. I do that by sharing.

Sarah hit the nail on the head -- she really got me -- when she said "Breaking the Chains doesn’t read like a typical memoir. Shari spends more time getting the facts straight than she does on artful prose..."

I agonized over getting the facts straight and I'm thankful she saw that in my writing. But the best words in her review were these:

"Shari’s book is full of hope. In the midst of legalism and her confusion about grace, she meets Jesus for real. And He changes everything."

I loved one other thing Sarah wrote. She said, "If you’re looking for a powerful testimony about freedom from religiosity or you just want to be challenged in your own ministry (believe me, she raises lots of convicting questions), consider giving Breaking the Chains a chance." (My emphasis added.)

More than I wanted to expose the inner-workings of a cult or write beautifully, I wanted to proclaim the true gospel and grace of Jesus Christ. I wanted to be real and own my story. And I wanted to help others. One of the ways I hoped to do that was by provoking deeper thought and raising convicting questions. So while Sarah's review may not have sung my praises as a writer, the important take-away for me is that the message broke through my inadequacy.



Once again, it was a process to get from disappointment to gratitude. But my gratitude at the end of the struggle is every bit as genuine as the disappointment was in the beginning.

This is a road well traveled in my life.

Comments

Denise said…
Shari (spelled correctly!) - you are most welcome! I am glad my words spoke to you and humbled if you found them inspiring. Please keep sharing your words in your voice. We want to learn from you!
Kathy said…
Shari
That was an excellent review and you've got to put this stuff in perspective. On a scale of 1-10, writers of sleezy romance novels to Vonnegut, someone is in the middle. Most faculty and research is written in third person or without pronouns so an academic reading work will almost always knock the use of "I." It's just boring to read over and over, but you were telling YOUR story. You'll figure out how to avoid if you choose, but her point was how engrossing and engaging your work was, despite your not having a doctoral in English Lit and composition.
I just had a review and have some of the highest scores in the system for patient and employee satisfaction; however, I have one lousy peer review and one stellar review. Of course, I have spent no time thinking about the stellar review. I have been ruminating for days on the lousy one. Someone that didn't have the courtesy to say one nice thing, or that I excelled at anything. I nominate all my colleagues for awards (they quality and receive them post-haste), and most of them said, "Oh I just didn't have time to do a review!" These same people I've nominated for awards.
I find myself falling back into self-loathing crisis, self-obsession, and actually spent time figuring out who this anonymous coward was! It also took some time for my own mind to quiet, accept that not everyone thinks I'm perfect (or cares), and then say to myself. OK-- I have to own that someone has this perception, how can I manage that? What can I own? It's not personal, it's business. Someone who does a review must tell their own truth just like you would. It's important to find both the strengths and weaknesses to help the person and also, point out to loyal readers that something like that might jump out at them, but if they judge the book that way, they are missing a great book.
I had a PhD review some work and she said "Overall is for Jeans," "Impact is for constipation (impaction), use affect, and "never use utilize, instead of use to sound pretentious." I took the criticism to heart and now have to chuckle when these words are used. Still, someone using them doesn't make them less than someone who doesn't, or a bad writer. It's all fairly subjective! I feel your pain. There are a lot of good books and classes on changing the phrasing to avoid use of particular language. There are a lot of grammar checkers that will pop up them right up in minutes and tell you how to correct if you CHOOSE to and won't lose your meaning-- the most important concern. If you never put yourself out there, you will never hear these things. Cowardly... and not your true self. At least you can't get fired! :)
Kathy said…
Don't say you have inadequacies either :) We are all on a path to learn-- self-reflection, compassion, humbleness, patience, integrity, tolerance, virtue. We're all somewhere on the scale...and NOT perfect. Maybe someday, on another planet!
Shari said…
Thank you both for your responses. And Kathy, I really appreciate your taking the time to respond with such thoughtful, in depth comments. I value your perspective and wisdom!
Anonymous said…
Hi Shari .....excellent writing ...how are you and the family ? John and mother still doing well ? Really cold here in the UK at the moment still no treatment yet ...still holding out

All the best
steve
worcesterhire
uk

Shari said…
Thank you, Steve. Glad to hear you are still in watch and wait. John and Marian are both doing well. They were recently interviewed for a Sarah Cannon marketing video, along with Dr. Flinn. It turned out really well and I shared it, but had to remove it from public viewing temporarily while it completed the official review process. Once I am notified it's officially approved I will put it back up on YouTube and on my blog.

It's always good to hear from you. Thanks for staying in touch!
Annette said…
I'm not here to critique your book (which I did read).
I want to share with you an experience I had last night in a critique writing group (my first night).
I thought they would like my story as much as my non-critiquing writing group had years ago.
But then they put it in the shredder. At first I was defensive with every sentence flung my way. They reassured me that I could take anything they said to heart or just leave it on the table and walk away at the end of the night.
I found that much of their constructive criticism was helpful in the end.
Through this experience I learned that getting a readers point of view from a complete stranger is much better than just hearing nice and fuzzy things.
I hope this helps you because I have a similar, and yet quite different, story to share.
Your story gave me the courage to keep going and to be authentic. Thank you for that.

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