21 February 2013

When all the critics love you

"You liked my mermaid
story! You really liked it!"
By Clark Brooks

Hey writers, let's talk honestly about a relatively unattractive trait that many (most? possibly) of us share: our insecurity. Specifically, our desire (need? probably) to be loved. Whether it's a dominant part of our personal make-up or just a small facet, many of us do this writing thing so we can show off to others who will respond by telling us how wonderful we are.
Don't worry, this is not an article about treating that psychosis. What would be the fun in that? Our idiosyncrasies are a significant part of our charm! Look how interesting we are! Weeee! What I'm saying is that writing in order to elicit the positive feedback that is lacking in other areas of our lives is a perfectly healthy activity. Unless it isn't. I'm no doctor. What do I know? It just seems to me that anything that motivates you to create can never be dismissed as being all bad, so there's that.
But what happens when we get that love in bigger doses than we anticipated and from sources we never expected to hear from? I mean CRITICS! What happens when these anonymous, high-minded, judgmental people (who are extremely charming, highly intelligent and impeccably well-groomed, I must say) come out of nowhere and bestow praise on our work? Pretty great, right? Sure! Soak it up and enjoy it. Just be aware that good reviews can be as potentially damaging as bad ones, just in different ways. Some things to keep in mind when dealing with critics who praise you...
  • Appreciate it! - Don't be suspicious or incredulous. Somebody liked your work and took time to say so. That means something! Let that give you a warm fuzzy or two. But...
  • Don't overly appreciate it - The absolute rule you must follow when it comes to criticism is that you're not as bad as they might say and you're also not as good as they might say. Sure, you can be proud of a good review. Print it out, frame it and hang it on your wall. Just don't make the mistake of thinking they're telling you that you can't do better. You can always do better. Remember, there is no middle ground. You're either improving or regressing. Good reviews can motivate you and tell you that you're on the right path. They can't tell you that you've arrived. The same way you shouldn't let a bad review send you into a spiral of despair, you need to be careful that a good one doesn't give you an inflated sense of satisfaction.
  • Don't let it alter your focus - Let's say you wrote a story about mermaids. Your next project is a Civil War epic. The mermaid story gets a rave review! Do you abandon the Civil War project and devote yourself to writing exclusively about mermaids? Well, you could. The positive review indicates that you've done something right. You might be on to something and who's to say that mermaids don't replace vampires as The Next Big Thing? That's not necessarily wrong... unless your passion is the Civil War and you really couldn't care less about writing about mermaids. Sure, I suppose you could spend the rest of your days churning out mermaid fiction. You might even make money doing that. I'm willing to bet that you won't be that happy. Further, I'm willing to bet that a lack of passion about your subject means the writing won't be all that great. Not as good as it could be if you were writing about the Battle of Fort Sumter, anyway.
  • The critics DON'T love you - Don't take that personally. The next thing you write could cause the very same critics to rip you to shreds. That doesn't mean they hate you. They're just doing their jobs. What you wrote this time caught their attention and they enjoyed it enough to give it some acclaim, but they don't love you. It's nice, but it isn't love in any way, shape or measure. The insecure, needy part of us probably doesn't like that but needs to know it. That's just the way it is. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Trust critics who try to see what artists are trying to do, who base their critiques on helping them achieve that. Take what you can to improve, leaving the rest behind, and go forward. If needed, there's always the old button: "Grin and ignore it."

    Peace and all good things for you in the arts and in life.


    1. Thank you, Diane. That's perfect - just want I needed to hear today.

  3. And NEVER respond to a bad review. Not everyone can love everything. Writing, as everything else, is a matter of taste. And critics, after all is said and done, are only people.