But what happens when all of your heart-on-your-sleeve open-mindedness seems all used up? When you just can't find a nice way of saying "Better luck next time!" It's one thing when it's a rough work. A student essay, for example, you know is a work-in-progress, you know that they will (or at least should) improve with every attempt. Even fictional works in the draft stage always has that glimmer of hope that surrounds it that if they just fixed their typos, just thought a little more as to what's motivating this character to proceed, or adjusted the level of description, that the out-come could one day be a good book. It doesn't have to aspire to be a masterpiece; so long as it's true to the story, a reader-to-be is out there waiting to be united with the book that will change their life forever. Of course, this isn't the reaction that all writers get. We may all dream of it, but most of us will get a pretty even patterning of yay's and nay's.
I can even appreciate a book that I hate, or a something I've written provoking hatred in someone else. In my opinion, the purpose of art is to bring out an emotional response from us. Even if it's negative, it's a response, the work has served its purpose and all is well in the world. What scares me most is the work that is received without reaction. The work that earns a few blinks of the eye, a shrug and a sigh, and then is forgotten about as if it had never been at all. I fear writing an empty work far more than I fear writing a bad one, as I'm sure the majority of writers do as well. So when I come across an empty work, my emotion doesn't pour from the reaction of the piece, but more so in empathy of the receipt of my numbness.
Unlike the work-in-progress, the kind that can be revised and released, that aura of hope around it, ready to make it the "right" book for the "right" reader, the published work has a not-so-invisible sign draped over it that says, "I'm ready world! Take me or leave me!" And when my reaction to this book is, "No, you're not ready yet" and yet here I am faced with the fact that someone must have believed that it was, and here is it, ready to be taken or ...le..leaven? left? there must be a better way to conjugate that saying... I'm afraid that I'm left with a feeling that I've come too late. Not that I believe published authors could be saved from mistakes by my counsel, or even that they'd listen to it; nevertheless, I feel horrible, not as a reader because I purchased the book with the intention of enjoying it, that's my purpose as a reader, and when I do not feel fulfilled, like any other customer, it is in my right to express so, yet, to keep this very awkward run-on sentence going, as a writer, it hits me right in the feels. Again, a writer will always have to face a negative review, but the true pain comes from the unfeeling review. So what do I do? As a writer, I also know that silence from a reader is just as painful. I would rather hear that my readers hated my work than for it to just disappear into the ether. But is an unfeeling review much better? Knowing that once this review has reached its final period, the last full-stop, that the work the reader has read and reviewed will disappear into the ether. This book I have read will do just that. I will think on it only long enough to endure the Curious Endeavourances hangout and then those few fragments that I struggled to keep alive will be dissolved.
How do I know it will be truly dissolved and not just a belief that I won't think about it again, much like I claimed Emily Schultz's Heaven is Small would be like only to discover that I can't get Gordon Small out of my head or stop re-playing the horrible purgatory that is Heaven? Because I was numb to each turning page, much like when you glaze over a textbook that you have to read but an hour later you have no idea what was even on those 3 chapters you forced yourself to get through. How I can hold onto something later that I couldn't even taste. Not unhappy. Not even underwhelmed. Just numb. Just unfeeling. Now how do you say that to an author who might have poured their soul into this work? And even more frightening, how do I as an author pull myself through it when someone says the same to me?