Monday, April 18, 2011

Being Peed On (now and then) is All a Part of Writing

My four-year-old son peed on me.  He was half asleep and those things aren’t all that cooperative early in the morning.  Instead of the pee flowing straight into the toilet, it shot at a sharp angle at me.  Luckily I wasn’t fully dressed.  As I washed it away, his brother and mother laughed at me.  Nothing like getting peed on to start your day.  Surely not the best of omens.

Sometimes this is what it feels like when you get a less-than-fantastic review for one of your books, as I did when I stumbled upon a review of Tropical Affairs that I overlooked in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, based in Hong Kong when it came out in February.  (I was pushing a deadline.)  This is the second time Tropical Affairs has been reviewed outside Malaysia/Singapore in one month!  In March it was reviewed in Holland by Expatriate Archive Centre  I’m flattered that Cha chose to review it, but you can’t expect everyone to love what you write.  That would be naïve. Most books and movies get mixed reviewed.  Not all good, not all bad.  Each individual has to decide for themselves.  As I wrote in an earlier blog, The Outsider Within

“I guess you can’t really call yourself a writer if someone doesn’t find fault with your writing somewhere. When you put your work out there, whether in book form, in literary journals, magazines, newspapers or blogs, you have to expect some criticism, or comments regarding your competency as a writer….It’s all part of the writing game like developing thick skin.  Remember, it's only one person’s opinion.  Think of your favorite singer or band, favorite movie or TV show, favorite and most-loved book of all time, and there’s going to be someone out there who absolutely hates it for a perfectly valid reason.”

But as a writer, it’s also important to learn from these reviews (many writers purposely ignore all reviews, good or bad, because they find them so depressing, so judgmental as well as any comments from editors or agents!)  True the reviewer may be way off base, but often there’s some truth there.  Many of the articles written for Tropical Affairs were, in fact, my first works to be published over 20 years ago, and I did go overboard on some of them.  Others parts did get repeated as snippets in other pieces, often written years later in different publications.  Yet when you place them all in one book, they tend to stand out, as I now know.  Another reviewer made a similar comment.  In hindsight, I wished I had left out several of the pieces, even though they had been previously published (see there’s that validation!); others needed to be toned down.  Also how to arrange or group your articles is never an easy decision—do it chronologically, as a memoir, or by subject matter?  (I started out grouping all the movie pieces and those under being a father, and then doing them chronologically within each section.)

By the way, the more that your work reaches a wider audience outside of your home or residing country, the more open it will be to criticism, and justifiably so.  Your work has to be good.  But with all criticism (including off-handed remarks from loved ones, friends, and colleagues), don’t let it ruin your day or your writing career (Everyone hates me, I’ll never write again!)  Also don’t read more into it than is actually there.  Often it’s only one or two comments that are less than favorable, not the whole review.  Let yourself cool down and re-read it later, as I just did.  It wasn't so bad.  Could've been a lot worse!  They could've told me never to write again!

So try not to read too much into your reviews or put in words that aren't even there.  That goes for reading between the lines!  Often you'll see that you were way to harsh on yourself!  And do as I did this morning after my son peed on me.  After scolding/reminding him to be more careful with his aim and after being laughed at by my wife (I think it made her day!  And we both had a good laugh over it and so did the boys!), I merely washed it off my leg.  No problem.  Then I showered and began the day properly, as fresh as the day I was born.  A little older, a little wiser, and then I put the review in its proper perspective.  I even laughed at myself for taking it so seriously.

Also, next time, especially early in the morning, I’ll let my sons pee first.

***Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

2 comments:

sintaicharles said...

How funny! My sister experienced that when she worked as a nurse eighteen years ago. A baby almost peed on her face when she was changing his diaper.

Ya, positive and negative reviews are part and parcel of a writer's life. You can't please everyone. But your works have inspired and touched many of us.

Getting peed on the face is a very unpleasant experience but it teaches us two things-always be ready for the unexpected and look at life from both sides(suddenly the song 'both sides now' pops into my mind). I hope I have got the gist of your message.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Luckily it was just my leg. But sooner or later when changing diapers you're bound to get it the face unless you react fast enough!

And when you write books, expect a few bad reviews. All the great writers had them, so you'll be in good company.