I’m Just Saying…

“Having the critics praise you is like having the hangman say you’ve got a pretty neck.”
Eli Wallach

I just read ANOTHER post on the pitfalls of praise. It even had a cute trendy title and came from a, gasp, respected trustworthy source.

Why is it that somehow praise is always to be regarded with a skeptical attitude, but criticism is not? I realize that this is rarely stated as being 100%, but it still seems like every other blog post I read these days is all about gleaning nuggets of wisdom from the negative reviews and “plugging your ears” when the praise comes around. I’m not saying that there isn’t some truth in being cautious with how you interpret reader reaction, be it positive or negative, but this #trendy topic I think has grown a bit big for its britches.

You know how small our percentages are as authors, how much we get paid in reality (even those of us on bestseller lists), and yet the one thing we get to really enjoy … we’re to plug our ears to? This was a great post that I just read, and I understand where she was coming from, just like I’ve understood the perspective of every other post on this subject. Yet, it still chaps my ass a little. Why?

Because we grew up in a world where things like 5th place exists. Because every other profession gets to celebrate, regardless of where they fall on the continuum except, it seems, for authors. Honestly, I’m a little tired of it. Who really stops growing as a writer because they think that they’re made of awesome? Seriously, are there that many authors out there who are throwing all their forward momentum into the trash because their latest novel was well received and they’re reveling in it a while?

I doubt it. Maybe one or two … but it’s hardly the epidemic that the blogosphere is making it out to be. If the temperature of the literary community is in any way related to how bloggers see this subject, we’d all be proclaiming our own worth like Capote on steroids. But, we aren’t.  No one writes blog posts about how much they rock (no author I’ve ever heard of anyway).

Unwarranted praise? I believe in the existence of unwarranted criticism, but a wealth of praise from the anonymous public without cause seems … um, legendary? I can’t even think of the right word for this. I get what she’s saying if the praise is coming from friends and family, but give us some credit for not being totally brain-dead here. We know genuine praise from total crap. And even if it is from family, it depends on which member of the family the praise is coming from. If your uncle has told you that your stuff is shit, 9 books out of 10, then you’re more than free to take that 10th book’s praise to heart.

I’m SO tired of hearing this chanted like a mantra for newbies. The Pitfalls of Praise. It’s cute. It’s catchy. It’s everything you’d want in a viral blog post. It probably even looks good printed out and posted over an aspiring author’s desk, but I can’t bring myself to agree with it. I think if you’re in-tune enough with your voice, as an author, and your editor, as a professional, then you’ll be just fine.

If, for some ungodly reason, there is a giant steaming batch of unwarranted praise hanging out there for a novel, your publisher/agent and/or editor, will tell you not to let your head get too big over it. I’m sure. Can’t say that I see that scenario actually happening in real life, but perhaps for someone the words, “All those comments about how strong your characterization is, are total shit. You need to seriously work on it in the future,” have been spoken.

Whatever. All I’m saying is that I doubt Stephen King takes advice like this. Or J.K. Rowling, or Dean Koontz. Or hell, even James Patterson. Maybe they just don’t care and I’m too bitter to see the forest for the trees … or, just maybe, we’ve let Twitter and Google Ads overtake our want for genuine writing guidance and sound mentoring. Most things worth hearing don’t fit into the viral scheme, so that stuff doesn’t get blogged about all that often. It doesn’t easily fit into packages with shiny ‘totes fave’ Blogger of the Week badges, or into the top five sponsored Twitter topics.

Real gold takes a little searching. It doesn’t pop out at you from a laminated sticky note above your desk. It comes from inside your head or your heart. The real gold is you, your special gifts, and your unique voice as an author. It’s the stuff only you’re capable of telling yourself.

So, instead of shunning praise and scouring criticism … how about we spend a little more time invested in finding out who we really are as authors?

I’m just saying …

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11 responses

  1. You’re totally right!! I don’t understand this idea that we should destroy what little happiness may come out of an event, praise, etc. No wonder the use of anti-depressants are on the rise. If people cannot be happy about something they’ve accomplished, be it “I got the girl” or “I got a raise” or “A critic raves over my stuff”, then what on earth can we be happy about?

  2. Well said! I think it’s more about our attitude than not reading reviews. If we have the right attitude we probably won’t ever go searching for our reviews in the first place.

    On another note, Anthony has me giggling like a schoolgirl…this may or may not be a bad thing. 😡

  3. Okay, before I go any further (because, of course, I MUST read – my OCD demands it) I have to say that pic? Had me staring, then laughing, then staring and laughing with glee some more! Thanks for the smile!

  4. No, honey – you really do have a point. I’m jut a fanfic author, but I don’t care how ‘good’ my work is seen as – I am constantly trying to improve, move forward and rarely do I trust the praise I DO get. Occasionally, there is that one gem, that one nugget that makes me smile – but, it inspires me to work harder, try harder and get better. No, I don’t get paid (peanuts or no) I do it for the sheer joy (as funny as it seems sometimes as I sweat and cry through a chapter) and to say I DID. But you’ll never see me saying ‘oh, man – I ROCK’ even if I ever DID hit King or Patterson’s caliber. Also – writers being generally insecure as a whole, I kinda doubt they walk around saying that anyhow. It is a PRACTICE, not an Art – but one I’m happy to keep trying to make into an Art. I’ll never succeed – but half the rewad is in the trying!

    *HUGS*

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