It’s a simple fact: We’re all critics, and we’re all critiqued.
I’m not just talking about critiques of our writing. I’m talking about reviews of our fashion choices, our parenting, our politics, our partners; everything that we are, everything we do, is fodder for critique.
And we all do it. Come on now, admit it. The woman in the shiny Lexus SUV who almost took out your limping 1997 CRV because she was texting through a busy parking lot this morning? Yeah, you bet I critiqued her.
Of course we’re all entitled to our opinions. Absolutely. It makes us who we are and makes the world a thrillingly diverse place. But at what point does criticism cross a line between disagreement and unwarranted disdain?
I think you all know where I’m going with this. Think Amazon reviews.
Now I should admit I have never written one, and when I read them, it is usually after the fact, if I’m curious as to whether another reader shared my admiration or confusion over a book’s plot point, ending choice, etc. But what boggles my mind is the excessive amount of unproductive criticism that is out there for books. (It’s out there for just about everything, I know, but I’ll keep this relevant to writing for now.)
For example, I’ve read Amazon reader reviews that suggested Pat Conroy can’t write. Now come on, stop it. Just stop it. I mean, seriously, who can write that with a straight face? You can say Conroy’s stories are often built on tough subject matter that you don’t enjoy reading about, or that his characters are sometimes fiercely unlikable and make choices that infuriate you. But I’m sorry–you simply cannot say the man can’t write. Now admittedly, I’m biased. I’m a huge fan. I think his prose is heartbreakingly beautiful. But telling me and the rest of the reading public that an established author can’t write is not only not true, it’s not helpful.
So of course this realization has made me consider how I’ll take my own share of disgruntled readers to my debut novel when it comes out next year. Will I be tough enough to take the reviews with the necessary grains of salt (on the rim of my consolatory margarita?), or will I find myself wracked with self-doubt? It’s easy to blow off harsh criticism of another writer’s work–but what about when it’s mine?
I remember very vividly as a young girl that the very whisper of criticism sent me down the rabbit hole of despair. No matter how gentle or how faint. No matter if delivered with a no-bake cookie or a glowing smile. I. Was. Crushed.
Then, something happened. I grew up and began to take criticism..well, well.
Maybe it was my college art professor who took one look at my still life of a paper bag and declared to the rest of the class that my highlighting resembled “pigeon shit”. Okay, I thought. So it looked like pigeon shit. I didn’t sputter a defense, I didn’t wilt. I nodded, I might have even smiled. It was a review. There’d be a lifetime of them. Better get used to them if I wanted to put my work out there.
And I did, repeatedly. Query after query of work. And I won’t lie and say the rejections didn’t sting, or that it got easier to kick myself out of my own pity party when everyone else had gone home, but for those of us who put ourselves out there, for that date, that job, that manuscript, we don’t have a choice.
Nowadays I crave reviews of my writing. When my editor has notes on a draft, I can’t wait to hear them. I mean it. I see every review, every constructive piece of criticism as an opportunity to grow as a writer. And I love it. I really, really do.
So tell me how tough you think you are when it comes to criticism of your work? Have you ever written a harsh review of a book? What was the first time you realized constructive criticism could actually be GOOD for a person?