Why Bad Reviews Don't Matter

I figure I should post this before my writing gets out there. Before someone thinks this was triggered by a bad review of my own work. It's not.*

First, let's start with a given: There is not a single book, song, or piece of art that is universally loved (or hated). I think we can agree on that. The Bible? Simultaneously loved and hated. Manet? Unappreciated in his time. And believe it or not, some people hate U2 (I know!).

From this, we can assume one of two things:

  1. Some people just don't understand great art.
  2. Art is subjective.

If you've been around here for a while, you know where I'm going with this, but let's stick with logic. The first supposition can be true if and only if, for a given work of art, all those who love it are by some measure "educated" in what is good art, and all those who hate it are not. I don't think that's true. Unfortunately, I can't really prove it in a single blog post, so if you want to argue with me you're just going to have to provide a counter-example.**

Art is subjective. That means all reviews, good or bad, are a matter of opinion. Saying that the characters in Ghost Force were flat, dull, and indistinguishable only means that the characters didn't speak to YOU (or, in this case, me... I didn't like that book). Saying the writing in The Shack was awkward and annoying only means the writing bothered YOU (or me again, although I did like the ideas).

Now I don't think a blog post in my obscure corner of the verse will help reviewers express things as their opinion (though they should), but I say this for you writers out there, and everyone else involved in art of any kind. Bad reviews can't hurt you. At best, a bad review is something you can learn from. At worst, it just means someone didn't get what you created.

And that's okay.

Art moves people, but everybody is moved by different things. A friend of mine hates (HATES!) Finding Nemo, while I consider it a powerful movie. Is my friend wrong? Uneducated? Totally blind to the genius that is Pixar? (Yes.) No! My friend just isn't moved by themes of fatherhood like I am. And why should he be? It's not his heart. There's nothing wrong with my friend, with me, or with the movie. It is what it is. It moves whomever it moves.

You hear this all the time: you can't please everybody. We use it to dismiss a critique that makes us upset, but think about it. If you can't please everybody, it means you don't have to. This is freedom, folks. It's the freedom to write what you love. The difficulty lies, not in making people understand, but in finding those people who already do.

Of course you will continue to work on your craft. Of course you will strive to write something that many, many people can identify with and enjoy. To me, that's the fun of growing in this art. But in the end, you'll write what you write. You'll move whomever you'll move.

And if that jerk on Amazon doesn't get it, that's okay.

* It's actually a preemptive attack on FUTURE bad reviews. How's that for passive-aggression?

** HA! Passive-aggression again!***

*** You know, these footnotes are getting kind of passive-aggressive.


CKHB said...

Hear, hear!

And, in particular, I have no idea why some other people hate Hemingway... nor do I get why people like The Great Gatsby. Weirdos!

Daniel Smith said...

I've heard it said, and Hollywood these days seems to confirm it, that "all publicity is good publicity."

And I didn't much like The Great Gatsby either.

Natalie Whipple said...

You know, as much as I KNOW this, those bad reviews still hurt sometimes. Which is really annoying. If I could get my heart to react like my mind knows it should, then I'd be a lot better at handling rejection.

Adam Heine said...

Too true, Natalie. For the record, every time I say things like don't give up or write something new, I'm saying it for myself more than anyone else.

Not two hours ago, I told my wife how every rejection I get reminds me that I may have to trunk Air Pirates forever if nobody wants it. I keep telling myself to work on the new thing, pin my hopes on that...but at the end of the day, I still love this story.

Cindy Heine said...

You know, I think parenting is an art as well. Not everyone will agree with the way you parent, but in the end, it's your choice how you do it, and you don't have to please everybody. I like this post, honey.

Adam Heine said...

Woah! Nice point, sweetie!

Lisa K. said...

Thanks for a thoughtful blog post. That all reviews are subjective is something we, as writers, need to remember. After all, opinions on a piece of art not only vary from person to person, but a single person may react differently to the same novel (or whatever) at different times.

Victoria Dixon said...

Thanks for this reminder, Adam! Loved the footnotes, btw. They made me laugh.

Hope you're all doing well!

Myrna Foster said...

This is a great post, Adam. In fact, I don't usually have a violently negative reaction to a novel unless it's been written well, and I recognize that. We all have our own life experiences, and that has it's own kind of beauty. Who wants to be redundant?

And now, I need to listen to U2. :)