Monday, May 19, 2014

Beware the Tongue!

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3: 6-8

The email caught me by surprise. Someone wanted to review one of my early books for their blog. Naively, I sent a copy of the book at my own expense to the reviewer. I don’t know what I was expecting. Surely he would like my book. There was even a chance he would love my book.

Three weeks later, he sent me an email saying he had posted his review. I eagerly went to his blog and read his review. I was stunned. He panned my book calling it “at best an honest effort”. I had given the man a free book and paid for the shipping and he repaid my kindness with a negative post?

Stop just a minute, I told myself. Do you want someone to pay you lip service or do you want the honest truth? After all, it is just his opinion and if you can’t stand the heat, Bruce, get out of the kitchen. When working with my editor, Andy Meisenheimer, on my first book with Realms, I recall receiving his six pages of suggestions. Six pages! As I read through them, my heart almost stopped. In order to make this book even reasonably good, I would have to practically rewrite the entire manuscript! What was I doing? Who was I to try and become a published author?

For a couple of days, I went into a deep, dark funk and for the hundredth time in my life tried to give up writing. But, towards the end of that time, I reread the suggestions and tried to have a change in perspective. Suppose I could make these changes? What if he is correct? As I considered the changes he wanted me to make, it suddenly occurred to me that the format for the edited manuscript closely matched my very first rough draft. In the intervening years, my original manuscript had changed so many times, I had forgotten what its original gestation was like. I retrieved that original rough draft and I was amazed at what I read. Here in my very first effort was a manuscript very similar to what would become the final manuscript with my editor’s suggestions put in place! My first instinct had been right!

When I made this realization, I suddenly found a passion and a zeal for my original story that gave me the energy to completely rewrite the manuscript with my editor’s suggestions in mind. And, this brings me back to the verse above. Recently, someone very close to me made some hurtful, bitter remarks. Accusations were thrown at me that stung, no, stabbed my heart. For two days, I could hardly think trying to understand why someone would say such hateful things. I could not have scripted an exchange for a manuscript harsher than this reality!

It reminded me how dangerous is the human tongue. One word spoken at the wrong moment can change the course of someone’s life. And, not necessarily for the better. I wonder how many would-be-authors dropped away from their craft because of a bitter review or a harsh word? How many potential best selling authors moved away from their passion and left behind an empty chasm in the world of literature?

Constructive criticism is essential in order for us to continually improve. But, that criticism can be placed in the proper light. I could have taken my editor’s suggestions and, indeed, given up. But, the passion to write is so powerful within me; so overwhelming I could not give up. Instead, I chose to learn from someone who, it turns out, is wiser than I am. Now, that book reviewer, I’m not sure. The question we need to ask about book reviews is: How reliable of a critic is a book reviewer? Have they reviewed many books and if so, do their reviews contain constructive criticism? Or, do they just rant? I live by many principles and one of them is: don’t complain to me about a problem unless you have already considered at least one solution.

How about you? Have you been hurt or discouraged by a review? How do you handle criticism and rejection?

Check out my latest book in the Chronicles of Jonathan Steel, "The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos" at

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