Living and Dying by Reviews

I love online review sites. I discovered most of my favorite restaurants on Yelp, I rarely see a movie I haven’t checked out first on Rotten Tomatoes, and I plan all my vacations using Trip Advisor.

I tend to take bad reviews with a grain of salt, because it’s easier (and more fun) to vent about a bad experience than thoughtfully praise a good one. I also have a theory that most of those snarky, caustic reviews are written by frustrated writers who want to feel the rush of publication.

Personally, I mostly write good reviews. It seems like a waste of everyone’s time to post negative or “meh” reviews. My only exception is when I feel obligated to warn people about a particularly shady place — like that nail salon in I stumbled into in Jackson, Wyoming with the filthy files and nail tech who I’m 99% sure was detoxing from drugs in the middle of my manicure.)

I’ve never posted a negative review of a book in my entire life. Not even for books I can’t stand, but everyone else seems to adore. (I’m talking to you, “Eat, Pray, Love.”) Reading a book is in intimate experience, and reviewing one is completely subjective.

And then there’s the question of how to review the books of authors with whom you are acquainted. Some people say you can find something positive to say about any book, and it’s important to support other writers with positive reviews. Others say it’s best to say nothing at all than give a clearly forced, mediocre review.

But with so many new authors being published in e-book format with little or no support from their publishers, new authors feel an enormous pressure to rack up reviews. Authors obsess over getting to a magic number of they think will trigger Amazon to promote the book. (The rumor mill says that number is 20, though more likely it is the number of sales triggering the recommendation, with X number of sales usually corresponding to about 20 reviews.  But when an author has an above-average amount of reviewers compared with sales, 20 reviews doesn’t represent X number of sales, and the whole thing goes out the window.)

For me, the biggest challenge regarding reviews is how to take them in — both the bad and the good.

I haven’t gotten any nasty reviews yet, but I fully expect they will come. Snarky reviews are especially en vogue right now, and sites like Goodreads have become a place where reviewers can find a little bit of fame by writing an especially “clever” caustic review. (See my earlier suggestion that negative reviewers are often themselves frustrated writers.)

And then there are the whackadoos, who receive a book as a gift, and instead of saying, “Oh, well. This one wasn’t my taste,” feel compelled to warn others away. One of my fellow Crimson authors, whose book was sailing along on a sea of praise, was recently smacked with just that kind of unnecessarily harsh review. Not a constructive analysis of the book, not a recommendation as to who should avoid it, just a “this book sucks” rant.

The other Crimson writers and I consoled our friend and told her the reviewer was obviously nuts. I even suggested that the only possible explanation was that the reviewer was someone she went to high school with who’d always been jealous of her.

Writers face so much rejection on the path to getting published, that once our work is out there, it seems especially shitty to have it torn apart by strangers. And so we circle the wagons and tell each other it doesn’t matter what some crazy lady in Idaho thinks.

And it doesn’t.

Unless some crazy lady in Idaho thinks your book is fabulous. Then, it matters. Then, it becomes the reason you write.

I sometimes struggle more with the idea of good reviews than bad ones. Like most writers, I delight in them. How much of that is ego and how much of it is something more noble, a true artistic yearning to move a stranger with my words?

I studied Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements in my twenties, and like with so many other spiritual books, the lessons have long slipped through my memory — except Agreement Number 2, Don’t Take Anything Personally. The idea is that what you say and do to me is not about me; it’s about you. You are motivated by your own flaws and needs, so when you are critical, it’s a reflection of you, not me.

I take comfort in this when people treat me badly. I especially lean on it in ongoing difficult relationships.

But the flip side, as Ruiz points out, is that the same is true for flattery. When you fawn over me, it still a reflection of you.

I know this intellectually, and yet I still crave praise. Is that so wrong?

Perhaps it’s all part of the yin-and-yang of being a writer. We spill our soul on paper, then have it torn apart, critiqued, edited, rejected, and hopefully, finally published. After all that, don’t we deserve to revel in a little love?

ImageLisa Weseman‘s romantic comedy The Name of the Game was released July 23 by Crimson Romance. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and adorable Doodles. Follow her at www.Facebook.com/LisaWesemanWriter.

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Lady in Red: Lisa Weseman

Meet Lisa Weseman, author of “The Name of the Game,” a contemporary romantic comedy coming July 23 from Crimson.

Is this a pen or personal name? Why did you make the choice to write under that name?
Lisa Weseman is my real name, but I almost went with the pen name Lola Sands. The original draft of “The Name of the Game” was pretty spicy, and I wasn’t entirely comfortable using my real name since I still had one foot planted in corporate America. But as the book developed into something less racy and more comedic, it made sense to publish it under my real name, since I also write romantic comedy screenplays as Lisa Weseman. Besides, Lola Sands sounds like a total bitch — and not even remotely funny.

Let’s get the details out of the way:
I’ve been married for five years to Lex, a director/producer. About eight years ago, we worked at the same cable network but didn’t know each other. One night I saw him at an after-work Happy Hour, and I plopped down in his lap and said, “You’re cute.” What can I say? I was young…and it was a martini bar.

We live in Los Angeles with our two dogs – a Golden Doodle named Sammy and a Cockadoodle (Cockapoo) named Buddy. They look exactly alike except one is giant and one is tiny. The story of how we got Buddy is pretty magical – I blogged about it here.

Doing what, other than writing?
Lex and I run a small production company, where I write and produce Film and TV, including two magazine shows on a cable network called YouToo TV. We recently made a short film called “SOLO” that will  hit film festivals and air shows later this year.

One—just one—physical characteristic.
Blonde.

What’s your secret passion?
I’m a passionate person, but I have very few secrets!

People might be surprised by my insane love of football, particularly the Florida Gators and New England Patriots. Every season, Lex and I fly to at least one game for each team. I’ve also been known to paint my face.

Tell us one thing about yourself you’d never change.
My creativity. I feel a little bad for people who can’t see the world through some kind of creative lens. I hope they just haven’t tapped into it yet.

If you didn’t live where you do, where would you live? Why?
I’d love to be closer to my family in Florida. But if I could live anywhere in the world, it would probably be Hawaii or Big Sur, for the beauty and tranquility.

Do you write about where you live or where you’d like to live?
I tend to write about places I’ve lived. “The Name of the Game” is set in Atlanta, where I lived when I was a flight attendant. “SOLO” is set in a small town much like the one I grew up in. And my next project, “The Engagement Ring,” is set in L.A., where I live now.

What’s the first creative writing you remember doing outside a class?
I was into self-publishing before it was cool! When I was about 7 or 8, I wrote a book called “Lithya’s Adventure” and published it myself – made a cardboard cover, stitched the pages together, the whole deal. Ahead of my time.

Why do you write romance novels?
We all struggle in life, but we also have the ability to be happy.  I write romance to celebrate the possibility of a happy ending –  romantic or otherwise.

What else do you write?
I write screenplays, most recently a short film called “SOLO” and a pilot for a science-fiction TV series developed with Sony.  I also write essays and articles, mostly on self-improvement and relationships. I recently started blogging on my website. It’s mostly reflection,  but I try to include a little research so that the reader gets something other than my personal diary.

What one thing from your book did you take from personal experience?
Like Kyle, the heroine in “The Name of the Game,” I was a flight attendant. After college, I worked briefly for Delta Air Lines, flying out of Atlanta and Los Angeles. Even though I quit after a few months, the experience definitely left an impression on me.

Around the same time, I attended a wedding of a friend named Terri who was marrying a guy named Terry. I loved the idea of two very different people with the same name being drawn together, and decided to use it as the hook for my flight attendant story.

What did you cut from your book that felt like severing a body part?
I’m the sick bastard who actually likes editing! I wrote the original draft of this book years ago, before I learned how to structure things to keep a story tight. It was a mess. So when my editor suggested some edits before she offered me a contract, I took a sledge hammer to the whole thing. Once I got my contract, I had almost no edits to make because I’d been so aggressive on my own.

Do you identify closely with one particular character? How?
The heroine Kyle is fun, something I value more and more the older I get. Life’s too short—and too long—to be taken seriously.

The best part about my writing life is:
Introducing my characters to other people. The first time we shot a scene for “SOLO,” I almost cried – I remember thinking, I invented these people! They lived in my head and now they’re real.

The same thing with “The Name of the Game” – the first time I had a conversation with someone who’d read a draft and she mentioned a character by name, it was like finding out we had a mutual friend. Wait, you know Mac and Kyle, too?

It’s the coolest feeling in the world.

The worst part about my writing life is:
Emotionally, the worst part is still rejection. It gets easier — but it never gets easy.

Practically, the worst part is juggling it all. Sometimes I’ll go six months without getting back to a project, and I’ll feel like I’ve abandoned those characters. But once I dig in, they’re like old college friends – I see them again and it’s like no time has passed.

Give us a hint about what the next book’s like.
Right now I’m adapting “The Name of the Game” for the screen. Who knows, maybe it will be a Lifetime movie one day!

After that, I’ll start working on my next novel, “The Engagement Ring.” The night before the heroine’s boyfriend is going to propose, she accidentally gets her college boyfriend’s engagement ring stuck on her finger.  As she and the ex spend the day together trying to get the ring off, they start to wonder if they might have lingering feelings for each other.

About The Name of the Game
She thinks he’s a stick-in-the-mud. He thinks she’s a flake. But flight attendant Kyle McKinney and accountant Kyle “Mac” McKinney are pulled together by something stronger than a shared name and address: a spark that will change their lives forever. A romantic comedy coming July 23 from Crimson Romance, available at major e-book retailers, including Amazon.com, BN.com, and iTunes.

The Name of the Game Adorkable Photo Contest
In honor of Mac, the adorably dorky hero of “The Name of the Game,” I’m looking for kids, pets, or grown-ups in all their geeky glory, from glasses & pocket protectors to suspenders & bowties. Four winners will receive a free download of “The Name of the Game.” Enter here.

The Magic of Multitasking and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves

For a while there, multitasking was the buzzword for success. Women could have it all — career, marriage, kids, friends, hobbies, beauty — all through the magic of multitasking.

But like shoulder pads and greed and everything else that “worked” in the ’80s, it turns out cramming a thousand things into every single moment is actually a pretty bad thing.

Yes, women are inherently better than men at multitasking. As Sir Ken Robinson explains in his must-see TEDTalk, the corpus collosum, a bundle of nerves that manages the communication between the two sides of the brain, is thicker in women.

Some speculate this difference evolved in support of the very earliest of gender roles. As hunters, men needed to focus on one thing, and one thing only: killing dinner. As gatherers, women had to complete many tasks: gathering plants, stoking the fire, tending to children.

And though few of us hunt or gather these days, women still shoulder a wider array of responsibilities than men, averaging 48.3 multitasking hours a week, compared with men’s 38.9.  But being better at something does not make it any better for us. In fact, the very experience of multitasking creates more stress in women than men.

Even worse, we’re not actually getting any more done. Most of the time we think we’re multitasking (writing an email while helping with kids’ homework while watching “Grey’s Anatomy,”) we’re merely oscillating focus over and over again (dear editor, McDreamy, 3×3=9, McDreamy, thank you for your feedback, McDreamy, carry the 1, McDreamy.)  This continual shift from one task to another creates a lag in the brain that slows productivity by as much as 40%.

That slowdown is something creative people like writers just can’t afford. Beyond managing the normal life stuff like a day job, family, and errands, writers have a whole other world to manage — research, writing, editing, networking, social media-ing. Most of these tasks are accessible by the click of a mouse, so it’s easy to slip into the habit of multitasking: write a paragraph here, research a bit on Google, post a status update to a writer’s group on Facebook. But with each transition, our brains lag and our creative momentum wanes.

So without multitasking, how the hell are we supposed to get it all done?

As Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project says, “When you engage, fully engage. When you disengage, fully disengage.”

Few of us have the luxury of devoting hours on end to our craft. So while it’s inevitable that we must serial task, we can choose to do so consciously. Instead of tricking ourselves into thinking we’re multitasking, we can break up the tasks and devote ourselves to each enterprise in a smaller, more focused block of time.

So if you only have an hour each day to devote to being a writer, spend ten minutes answering urgent emails, another ten checking up on your writer’s group on Facebook, another ten researching. Then plow into a solid half hour of writing. Or break it up into larger chunks of time, devoting a solid hour to each of those tasks one day a week and not letting them distract you on the other days.

Most importantly, when you’re writing, write. Immerse yourself in your characters, their heads, their worlds. If you’re stuck on something, make a note to look it up later. If you need a break, go for a walk. But don’t muddy up the painful, beautiful creative process with all the business that surrounds it.

The same can be said for everything else in your life, too: walking the dogs, giving the kids a bath, cooking dinner. Amidst the mundane chaos of everyday life, strive to be present in every single moment.  You’ll not only be more productive, you’ll be more happier, and quite possibly, a better writer.

How do you juggle real life, writing, and the truly important things, like watching Patrick Dempsey shirtless? Share your process in the comments below.

Lisa Weseman lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two unbearably adorable Doodles. Her debut novel, a contemporary romantic comedy called The Name of the Game, launches July 23 at major ebook retailers, including Amazon.com, BN.com, and iTunes. She blogs at www.lisaweseman.com.