Critics and Authors Part 1: Face Off

The wise person finds enemies more useful than the fool does friends. – Baltasar GraciánThe Art of Worldly Wisdom, in Aphorism 84.

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I’ve witnessed quite a bit of self-destructive behavior in my time on Earth. You might say I’m something of an expert, having lived in the midst of the sort of poverty that engenders a self-destructive bent and experienced the kinds of things that drive shame right into the core of your being. I have no idea how common this sort of experience is among writers, though I suspect at least a sizable portion of us have touched this in some way, or we wouldn’t be driven to express ourselves in quite such a fashion. That’s why I think it’s important to speak some to this streak and what I’ve seen over the last few months.

I used to fight against anything and everything. No slight was too small, no cause too large for me to take on. You have to meet injustice head-on, and all those little injustices snowball into bigger ones. I’m not saying that’s untrue, either; I still believe that sentence to be true and important to making the world a better place. The thing is that experience taught me – as it does most people – that there are not only right and wrong ways to challenge incorrect notions, but right times and places to do it. That’s a convoluted way of saying that I learned to pick my battles. When you’re only one person, there’s only so much you can do and you can wear yourself out tilting at windmills, leaving nothing for the battles you really need to fight.

Image Courtesy Scott MacLeod @ Flickr

I admit, all of this is easier said than done. Every day is a struggle to choose those moments. Is it worth it, though? Hell yeah. Expending the effort to reign in anger and express it in an appropriate fashion before it erupts into wanton chaos and self-destructiveness is almost always the correct response. That’s why I’m a little…well, disappointed isn’t the correct term, because that implies a parentalism that I’m frankly not comfortable assuming. Let’s go with upset. I’m a little upset to see the brush fires that have been flaring up between authors and critics in the recent few months.

Before we go one step further: I want to note that I agree with JW Manus’ views on the situation 100%: it’s incorrect to tell writers to shut up, be quiet, and do as they’re told. Not only does it go back to that paternalism I mentioned, it’s also a way of controlling the conversation, and that’s not what I’m seeking to do at all. Hell, I’m speaking up here myself and I wouldn’t want to be told to sit down and shut up.

No, my goal is to examine what I’ve seen, why it might be happening, and also possibly share why it’s such a bad idea to allow these critics into your heart and career. We’ll take a look at all of those things tomorrow.

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  1. And once again, how much we are alike. In college I had a sticker on my truck that said, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

    I’ve calmed down since.

    Not sure what it was that caused that death of youthful angst and idealism, but I think you’re right. You learn to pick your battles, and for me, it’s exhausting to be that angry all the time. You miss some great stuff living that way… like being happy 🙂

    I’ll be interested to see where you go with this one, but I think I addressed a little of it in my post this week. Some people don’t want to hear anything about their book unless it’s glowing praise. I have a feeling that many of these same people never used an editor or beta readers. They wrote the book and absolutely knew it was the best thing since sliced bread.

    Anyway, looking forward to the rest.

    Paul D. Dail A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • Jonathan D Allen

      I’m still passionate about social justice issues, I just do it more quietly and in focused bursts. I know exactly what killed angry young Jonathan, though: the 2004 election followed shortly by the Terri Schiavo “crisis”. Something snapped in me that’s never come back, but like you said, it’s really better that way. I’m a lot happier.

      Funny, this was bouncing around in my head for awhile but when I saw your post last week I worried that you had gotten there first and this would ring hollow. Thankfully I had a few more things to say that I believe complimented your own post.

  2. I tend to not argue with a person’s opinion. I may disagree, may state my own, but arguments rarely change minds, so I don’t bother. If it were facts, that would be a different matter. Facts are facts and those don’t change because of someone’s point of view.

    Anyway, here’s the way I see the whole critic, reviewer, author thing. Everyone is entitled to their opinion–especially people who’ve paid for the privilege of having an opinion. Writers might consider being grateful someone bought the book, read the book and felt passionately enough about it to comment on the book. I find it pretty silly when authors try to defend their work against readers and even sillier when they go to war. I don’t see the point of it. If one’s feelings are so tender, reading reviews is the very last thing one should be doing. Take those tender feelings and put them on the page where they belong.

    • Jonathan D Allen

      Even arguing facts can be tiresome, as people will twist “facts” to fit their own agenda. I’m careful about those battles.

      I didn’t respond to this yesterday because you hit a lot of points that I wanted to make today! *shakes fist* 🙂 Especially that part about pouring emotions out onto the page. Can’t blame either of us if we’re on the same wavelength, though.

  3. What Jaye said. And if you *do* decide to get involved in a flame war, be civil and be detached. You’ll look better than those who lack control.

  4. John Locke had an interesting take that has completely changed my approach to negative reviews and reviewers. He says that, when he gets a bad review, it’s not necessarily a reflection of the work; it actually means that the book wound up in the hands of someone who was not really the book’s intended audience. The more scorching the review, the further away from the intended audience that review happens to be. The bad reviews you must pay attention to are those by your loyal readers who’ve read and liked your previous stuff.

    • Morris, hi –

      That’s a very sane explanation for the root cause of bad reviews. As a reader, I tend to look at a few of both the glowing and the not-so-glowing reviews and judge for myself where the book probably falls for me. When the good is too good and has no constructive criticism, I assume friends wrote it. When the bad is really over the top negative, I assume someone who never would have liked that particular theme wrote it. What gets me are the reviews by people who start out by saying, “I didn’t read this book, but….”


    • Jonathan D Allen

      Thanks for this! I sought this out and “borrowed” it for today’s post (with proper attribution, of course). Also checked out your site! Will be following it.

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