other authors != punching bags.

| Monday, February 22, 2010
Today's Tune: Beat Your Heart Out

Ever since I decided to seriously focus on my writing, I've been finding myself more mindful of the criticism I bestow on other writers, and careful how I speak about published authors. There are a few unwritten rules in the world of writing, and among them are: Don't Dish More Than You Can Take, and We All Live in Glass Houses.

This is why I tend to avoid book reviews on this blog unless I have something genuinely gushy to say about a given book or author. I do make general comments, such as "the plot moved slowly for my liking, but the characters kept me reading," but you won't see me ripping into a novel. I tend to subscribe to the mindset of "If you don't have something nice to say..." as far as that goes.

I haven't always been this way. A few years ago, I would have been happy to tell you exactly why I thought a novel was a total pile. Even a year ago or so, I found myself falling into this trap, and I had to give myself a good shake and get out of that mindset.

Here's the thing with pointed criticism of our fellow authors (published and unpublished): we're all in the same boat. We're all on the same side. Some of us are going to be more skilled than others, hold different opinions about what's quality and what isn't, have different approaches to the craft. If anything, we should be able to relate, because we know exactly what we're all up against.

I'm not saying we have to love everything and sing a big kumbaya. We're allowed to hate what we hate. We just have to be mindful of the arena in which we announce that hatred, because when we do, we're leaving ourselves wide open for return scrutiny.

Don't Dish More Than You Can Take: We think we can handle it all. We can laugh, let it roll off our back, and still be convinced of our awesomeness. Well, good luck with that. Writers by nature tend to be some pretty sensitive personalities. Abstractly, we think that we can stomach unbridled loathing of our work, but in practice... could you imagine if your beloved, baby novel were finally turned loose into the world and then absolutely destroyed by critics and a fair chunk of the public? Say what you will, but that STINGS. BAD.

Even if your book has an awesome following and plenty of praise, those few naysayers (the ones that really go for the jugular) still hurt. If you've ever posted a diatribe about how terrible a book was, imagine Googling your own work and coming across something just like that. Could you handle that? If yes, then have at it. Otherwise, maybe rethink how you're coming across.

I say this because it brings me to the next "rule:"

We All Live in Glass Houses: If you're an author dishing nasty criticism about other authors, you WILL receive backlash. Your writing will be painfully scrutinized and gutted in kind. You will receive several responses of "What the hell do you know? You're no Faulkner/Vonnegut/Bronte." If you ever made a remotely similar mistake to the work you're criticizing, the spotlight will be on.

And you know, even if your writing is flawless and awesome, the people who love the author you ripped to shreds won't care. They won't read it because they don't like how you treated another author. They may even diss it anyway to give you a taste of your own medicine.

I'm not a huge believer in karma, but I do think it never hurts to put out the sort of energy you'd like to receive. For all the energy we waste hating on and being jealous of and stewing about other authors, it's not going toward what really matters: ourselves.

Sometimes a good "I HATED THIS BOOK SO MUCH" session is really cathartic. I have them every once in a while. I'm just mindful of keeping it among myself and my personal friends/family, as opposed to making it available to the Internet at large. Just sayin'.


{ Shelley Sly } at: February 22, 2010 at 12:11 PM said...

This is such a great post, and it covers a lot of what I've been thinking about lately. I'm planning a future blog post focused on the community of pre-published writers, and I definitely want to address negativity toward other books and writers.

I don't think I've ever seen a book given only positive reviews. All authors and someday-authors have to deal with inevitable so-so or bad reviews from non-writers. So why add to the mess by publicly criticizing each other? We all know it hurts, so as you said, "if you don't have anything nice to say..."

{ Christi Goddard } at: February 22, 2010 at 1:03 PM said...

Your posts always sound so much more professional than mine. :-) That's one of the reasons you're going to make it, Steph.

{ maybe genius } at: February 22, 2010 at 1:53 PM said...

Shelley - Thanks, I'm glad you liked it! I look forward to reading your post :)

Christi - LOL! I try. You'll make it too... one of these days! You've got a lot of humor going for you.

{ KarenG } at: February 22, 2010 at 3:25 PM said...

It's an immature reader who can only take one side or the other-- it's great! or it's garbage!-- an intelligent reviewer can always find something good about a book. If not, then don't finish it and don't review it. Period.

Another pet peeve of mine, while we're on the subject-- bloggers who gush over their friends' books and give mediocre responses to their non-friends' books. I say if you're going to review on your blog, then be professional about it.

{ Tiffany Neal } at: February 22, 2010 at 6:09 PM said...

I agree with this! It's the road most published authors take as well. Only talk about the ones they give 5 stars and LOVED...

{ steph } at: February 24, 2010 at 2:45 PM said...

Really good advice. This advice that even creative writing classes need to hear - some students think that constructive criticism = a list of everything they hated about a story and why it JUST DOESN'T WORK.

Again, excellent advice.

{ Theresa Milstein } at: March 11, 2010 at 2:08 PM said...

Your post is well-written. Karen G adds to it by stating that no book is all or nothing. Even the best books have problems and the worst ones have merit. I blame this on the way English is taught in colleges. Even in my graduate program in History had us tear everything apart.

Just like we're told to do a critique sandwich in a group, we should be mindful of that when reviewing books on-line.

{ wavemaster punching bags } at: February 7, 2011 at 7:33 PM said...

The more weight a bag has, the less sway it will produce. Too much will make the bag hard to hit, and too little sway will make the bag feel like a rock, and fail to absorb impacts which will cause damage to bones and tendons over time.

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