How to Take Criticism

Be as humble in victory as in defeat. 
This week one of my novels won an award, but I did not attend the ceremony. I'd like to say I eschew popular support or that I write for arts' sake or some similar nonsense. No. The truth is, I avoided it. I am very grateful for the selection and pleased that someone not only read my work but was inspired to an opinion. That said, the only way to weather the manic storm of infamy is to watertight both bow and stern against the spittle of the masses.
Authorship is self-motivational. Seldom are we asked to retire from humanity for the lengthy production of speculative work. No, we bring it on ourselves and, whether tortuous or fair, some part of us believes the exercise worthwhile, either for our own benefit or the edification of our peers. I believe the concise word is 'conceit'. For that reason, the best thing that can happen to any author is
a bad review. Some authors are luckier than others in that regard. Negative reviews offer a welcome respite from our swollen craniums and aching smiles.
I’d like to thank my own detractors, for example:

“The problem with the book is quite simple really, it lacked depth. It is not a great book, but to be above all the ballyhoo if you will, it's an ok book.

The blow softens when your detractor is visibly less literate than your intended audience, but it stings nonetheless.  Or this comment from a reviewer who stopped before it got good:

“This is a first novel, and in my opinion, after reading the first 25 pages, it shows.”

Ouch. That hurts. More importantly, this reviewer is correct. I know the first two chapters are dull because I found them dull to write. My mistake was in leaving them that way.
I'd like to say criticism makes us stronger, but our egos preclude dissent. The best we can do is to assimilate. A novel must be all good, not in parts but in whole. Every word must be our best. How sad when our best and our deadlines do not coincide, but such is commerce.
To close, let me relate S. R. Crockett's tale of "The Heather Lintie". I take it for granted you've not heard of this tale, written, as it were, in 1896. I am fond of novels written before 1917, but I wouldn't recommend them. You'll find within those pages your own half-written manuscript, completed, and succinctly plotted, with wit and art that exceeds you birthright.
Aging spinster Janet Balchrystie dreamt of immortality as a poet. She submitted a new poem each week to the county paper which printed it in distilled form after a proper edit by the senior office boy “to cut down, tinker the rhymes, and lop any superfluity of feet.” Nevertheless, it pleased her to see her name in print, though the bulk of her work remained locked in an attic trunk.
At last she gathered her courage and resources to self-publish her scribbled tomes. Once published, she waited for the recognition of the world. The book landed in the hands of a junior reporter in the city who, being a clever wag in a lowly rag, set his pen against her. His excoriating critique began with “This is a book which may be a genuine source of pride to every native of the province of Galloway.” These were the words she read with bliss that night, promising herself to read the remainder in the morning. He then went on to belittle her as a country oddity with a style comparable to a travelling circus. This part she never read.
She died in the night.

“God is more merciful than man.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

But what do YOU think?