Thursday, September 2, 2010

It's Not Me, It's You

Like most writers, I’ve had my share of bad reviews. I’ve also had more than my share of glowing raves. Early in my career, there was so little attention to my work that the good reviews could make my day. And the bad ones could send me to bed. Over the years, after having experienced the full range of dizzying highs and crushing lows the writing life can offer, I have found more balance. Like a kayaker in big water, I stay centered and keep on paddling – rain or shine.

A few years ago, I read a book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It changed my life. One of the agreements, maybe the most important for me was: Don’t take anything personally. No matter what anybody does or says to you, even if they should go so far as to walk up to you and put a bullet in your head, has anything whatsoever to do with you or who you are. It’s all about them, about their thoughts, ideas, prejudice, and view of the world. If people say they love you, it’s about them. If people say they hate you, well, that’s about them, too. If you learn and internalize this (which – PS – is not easy), it can be very illuminating – and freeing.

Most people only deal with this on a small scale. You have your friends, family, neighbors, business associates, and random encounters with strangers. Most of us know that some people are going to like us, and some people are not. Likewise, we won’t like everyone we encounter. Maybe your coworker reminds you of someone who bullied you in high school; you dislike her without even knowing why. That’s about you. Maybe you think your friend is cheap and it makes you angry. Another person might admire her for her frugality. It’s all about the opinions we bring to the table.

As a writer, I am fortunate that my novels have found a large number of readers. And, guess what? Some people love my books. And some people don’t. Some of those people keep their opinions to themselves, some of them post on the bookseller sites, write their opinions on Facebook, send me personal emails, or write reviews in major national magazines and newspapers. Luckily, most of the people who do this, have at least something nice to say about my books. But not always.

If you’re true to yourself, as a person, as a writer – if you don’t chase trends or seek to please, you are likely to attract at least some negativity. I have found this to be true in my personal and professional life. Of course, it’s never a good day when someone says something negative about your work, but you tuck in and keep paddling.

When I sit down at my keyboard to work on my novel, I am my truest and most centered self. I don’t seek to please; just to tell the best story I can, to the best of my ability. I know some people are going to love it, and some are not. The world is impossibly complicated, and opinions vary wildly. So no matter what reviewers write about my books, I try to remember that it’s about them as much as it is about me.

Lisa Unger


Lisa Unger is an award winning New York Times, USA Today and international bestselling author. Her novels have been published in over 26 countries around the world.

She was born in New Haven, Connecticut (1970) but grew up in the Netherlands, England and New Jersey. A graduate of the New School for Social Research, Lisa spent many years living and working in New York City. She then left a career in publicity to pursue her dream of becoming a full-time author. She now lives in Florida with her husband and daughter.

Her writing has been hailed as "masterful" (St. Petersburg Times), "sensational" (Publishers Weekly) and "sophisticated" (New York Daily News) with "gripping narrative and evocative, muscular prose" (Associated Press).

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  1. Lisa, I love this post and you've made me pull out my copy of The Four Agreements, a book I've had forever but haven't actually read! I will definitely read it now because what you said makes so much sense!

    Great to have you here!

    MIsa , bringing books and readers together!

  2. Lisa: Thanks for blogging with us today. And your message couldn't be better timed, for me anyway. I'm a big fan and thrilled that you could join us today! Maggie

  3. Perfect timing. I woke to a Google alert for an Amazon review of a free read my publisher put up there. Everyone had loved it--it's a quirky look at being a writer. But this reviewer didn't like it at all, and totally misunderstood the intent. I really shouldn't let things like that bug me -- after all, it's not like he was out a lot of money, but it's still tough to separate the "me" from the "someone else's taste."

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  4. Lisa, thanks so much for stopping by! I love everything you had to say. It's so true and something that's been on my mind a lot lately! As for THE FOUR AGREEMENTS, that is one of my favorite books and in my "keep forever" pile. Still trying to master what I learned (ah, one of these days!). But I figure that's what life's all about, muddling through and trying to always do better. Continued success!

  5. I love this post too. I've pulled the bedcovers over my head a time or two after a depressing/devastating review. The turning point for me came when Amazon reviews led to too much of this (and my non-fiction book is controversial). I stopped reading Amazon reviews completely. It's still hard so reading this post is great reinforcement and support. Thanks!

  6. Ditto what everyone else said. Sounds like I could stand to read that book!

    Thanks, Lisa!