In the same vein as the last post, chances are that most of you reading this already have your own opinions on this topic and an understanding of the viewpoint that I am sharing. But just like the last one, I'm writing this anyway because I do what I want.
You can leave a comment if that upsets you, but I won't be reading it. I implemented a rule in my life that I do not, under any circumstance, read the reviews of my work. This is unfortunate because recently I had a few friends mention that they wrote reviews on Scream Writing but I won't ever know what those reviews say.
This behavior could be seen as egotistical, and I would be remiss if I didn't admit to an ego larger than any halo could fit. But the real root purpose of this refusal is to protect my own mental health.
Psychology is a favorite topic of mine. One of the elements of our modern day psychology that can't be stressed enough is the fact that our brains aren't designed for 21st century living. We evolved from tribes to villages, towns and now onto cities. Human evolution is much slower than technological evolution. Modern humans began to biologically emerge 200,000 thousand years ago, which is only a drop in the bucket when you consider our earliest ancestors date back seven million years.
In contrast, the oldest continually inhabited city is that of Damascus and this only traces its history back roughly 11,000 years. So modern humans existed for 189,000 years before they started gathering in cities. This has caused limitations in our psychology, ones which the modern world make all to clear.
One such limitation is that of Dunbar's number. University of Oxford anthropologist and psychologist Robin Dunbar came to what is sometimes called "Dunbar's Number" or "The Rule of 150." In short, this states that we can only cognitively balance about 150 different social relationships. This small number is nothing compared to the population of a small city or even a large town, let alone that of a huge city like New York or the limitless connections that the internet offers. But this is only one such problem that the modern human faces.
The bigger issue where it relates to reading the reviews of a piece of work are our focus on the negative over positive. Daniel Kahneman wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow and in it he covers a lifetime of behavioral experimentation and studies. One of the key features that comes up is the negativity bias that we have. We have a stronger adverse reaction to losing wealth than we do to gaining it; likewise, we tend to focus on negative comments more than we do positive compliments.
When it comes to the reviews of your writing, this can be a major problem. You could read a thousand positive reviews before stumbling on a single negative one but it is the negative one that is more likely to stick with you. I experienced this myself with The Life and Times of Frank Balistrieri.
This was a gun-for-hire book that I did with Wayne Clingman. I used FBI documents gained through a Freedom of Information Act request in order to explore the life of mobster Frank Balistrieri. Far from relying solely on these documents, I also used Google to discover research and fill in the blanks, as well as signing up for several news websites in order to search through their past publications. This research ended up taking months but in the end I feel like the book I delivered was of quality.
But it wasn't something that mattered to me the same way that Scream Writing or my film studies work does and so I finished the project and moved onto the next thing. Mr. Clingman, on the other hand, is very attached to the book and he would read the reviews of it. At one point he asked me to give them a read and let him know if they were good or bad.
This was one of the biggest mistakes of my early career but thankfully it taught me a valuable lesson.
Most of the reviews were pretty nice. A few wanted more information and I can't blame them, there really wasn't a lot out there to go on. What was out there was included in the book and there was plenty included that was only in the FBI documents.
But one review stood out. It was one star and the poster's point came down to be "This is shit, you can find all of this information through Google." This paraphase may not do the poster justice in their eyes but ... hey, fuck you. Now you know how I feel as you paraphrased my hard work. But more importantly, I knew for a fact that this wasn't true. I had done the Googling, I had done the research, I had the stacks of FBI documents in the drawer next to me. So this one star review was complete garbage, entirely untruthful.
Yet it stood out to me and continues to stand out to me to this day. I haven't returned to read any more. I don't particularly care what people are saying about that book. If an issue was raised through the reviews then this would pass on to me through Mr. Clingman and I can address it in future volumes. But this book was his baby, not mine. For me, it was another job and a chance to start writing for a living.
And yet... I am still thinking about that one review. It makes me bitter, angry. But it is worthless to me as a creative. It didn't teach me anything. It was founded on a mistruth. It should be absolutely nothing, easily forgotten.
But I remember what it said. I don't remember what any of the positive ones said. And in that contrast lies the point of this all. Reading the reviews can be more harmful than good, thanks to our negativity bias. This bias made sense when the social world was the tribe and negativity was often a sign of transgression and imminent death or banishment. Noticing negativity was important so that we could fix whatever issue caused it and keep out place in the society secure.
This isn't the case anymore. That bad review hasn't done anything to my ability to work and keep a roof over my head. It has only kept a piece of negativity in the back of my mind.
I don't suggest completely ignoring advice or comments, but to consider the route you allow them into your life. When it comes from a trusted figure, someone who's taste you respect, then absolutely welcome comments or reviews in with open arms. But don't go seeking out the general population's thoughts. They're messy, they're often ill-informed and they are rarely helpful.