I don’t know how other artists feel, but for me every story I write or picture I paint is a piece of me. Like a chunk of my flesh is slapped onto a canvas or piece of paper and hung on the wall for all the world to see. And judge.
Though I’m pretty silly most of the time, I take my art and writing very seriously. On the surface my paintings are fairly lighthearted, but each one reflects a mood or experience that I couldn’t quite shake. I can look at each one (of the hundred or so that lurk in my closets) and recall where I was, how I was feeling, and what life decisions, memories, and dilemmas my brain was processing when it was created. It’s a part of me. Like a limb or organ. During my first art show, a few years back, someone wrote in my guestbook, “I don’t like all the colors at once. It’s just way too much.” I went through the stages of grief: anger, defensiveness, insecurity, sadness, acceptance (that I’m a total no-good hack who should never wield a paintbrush again).
I know we’ve used the baby metaphor to death, but it’s so appropriate for us book writers. Prior to conception, there’s a lot of planning and confronting doubts and fears. When we’re deep into the pregnancy period of creating our books, we live, eat, and breathe our stories. After birth, when the books are delivered to our editors, the real nurturing ensues. But, even after our offspring leave the nest and settle into bookshelves around the world, we worry about them constantly. And it pains us to the core when they are misunderstood or people speak ill of them.
So, I cannot even imagine how difficult it will be to read reviews of my novel once it is published. Even a tepid review will probably feel like my kid’s first grade teacher is telling me that my beautiful, brilliant child is not as good or smart as my delusions led me to believe. It’s such a bizarre thing that we artists place our hearts and souls on display, and hope people don’t tear them apart. Maybe facing the criticism gets easier with time. Like, we reach a point where we swim in confidence and shun those who don’t understand us.
Or maybe we just learn to focus on the positive. Like, tonight, I flipped through that old guestbook from my art show and noticed that on the last page somebody wrote, “You have really nice legs!” And I felt much better about myself.
Take that, man who hates lots of colors! How you like me now?