August Theme: How to Deal with Negative Thoughts by John Claude Bemis

When I first began down the path to getting published, I thought the end goal was just that: getting published. Everything after that would be the greener grass of having made it. Boy, was I wrong! I suppose this is basic human nature. Once we cross a hurdle, we suddenly see there is more to achieve in order to be “successful,” something else that will make us happy and satisfied.

This is the wrong way to think.

Many qualities contribute to an author’s success— creativity and talent being the most obvious. However I know many talented writers (published and not yet), and all the creative talent in the world can’t get you through the barrier that plagues us all (published and not yet). That’s the barrier of doubt, fear, and insecurity that inevitably lurks in our thoughts.

When my first novel, The Nine Pound Hammer, came out in 2009, I was suddenly faced with reviews. In our internet-centric world, anybody can say anything about your writing for the entire world to see. My novels have gotten wonderful reviews and awards, but, like every writer, I’ve gotten… less than glowing reviews. They hurt. They feed those doubts, fears, and insecurities inside you.

I started to take the approach of not reading anything on-line, good or bad. My wife—unbeknownst to me— decided to take up the burden by setting up a Google Alerts. One night just before bed, a truly awful review came in. She was up all night, tortured by whether to tell me. When she finally broke down, I decided then and there that it wasn’t fair for her to have to go through that. It wasn’t fair hiding from bad reviews. We were going to see them one way or the other.

The truth is reviews aren’t written for the author (or his/her spouse). I had to accept this. They’re opinions and written for audiences of book lovers who might or might not listen to those opinions anyway. At the worst, bad reviews are a bunch of mean-spirited nonsense to be ignored. At their best, bad reviews offer constructive feedback. So I’ve decided to toughen up. I’ve decided to read those reviews.

Which takes me back to important qualities for being a successful writer. (This is true as well for athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, and quite possibly all of us.) To let your talent translate into success, you have to conquer that doubt, fear, and insecurity. You have to accept that criticism comes with the territory. You have to learn how to discern between criticism that is constructive and criticism that can be ignored. Oh, how hard it is to ignore the awful stuff, but if you don’t, you’ll sabotage your own creative spirit. Nothing undermines talented writers more than fear.

I’m working on approaching my writing career like an athlete. Some games you win, some you lose. But if you want to keep at it (which I truly do and will), you have to face those doubt-inflating moments as simply moments, something that will pass with wonderful moments ahead. I’ve come to see pursuing this dream not as a pursuit at all but as a journey where I celebrate the good moments, enjoy where I am, and don’t focus too much on that mirage of greener grass.

I’m lucky to get to do what I do. And if I keep my head in the game, I’ll get to do it a long, long time.


  1. Great post! You have a good attitude. As an adult reader of MG books I always have a hard time when I don't like one I read because I am not the intended audience. I take the approach that since I am a librarian even if I read a book a don't like I can find a reader in my school that will like it!

  2. I adore this post, John! I read my reviews, too. I've decided there's a yin to every yang. You'll never get an email from a reader who believes your book is one of the best they've ever read without coming across a review from someone saying, "YUCK." But bloggers are smart, too. There absolutely IS constructive criticism in a blog review...I've learned much from good ol' Google Alerts.

  3. Thanks, Jana! That's an important role you have for your students. As someone who is also an elementary school teacher, I've come across many books as well that I was excited about, but I knew my students well enough to know which ones would like it. Enjoy that beautiful Montana bit of heaven!

  4. I appreciate that, Holly! So many parts of being an author are seeing the yin and the yang. I love that analogy! Good for you for reading your reviews. It takes guts of steel sometimes.


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