During a routine bout of exercising my procrastination muscles, I came across some sample pages a writer had put up on an open forum for critique. Brave soul! One who probably, deep in her heart of hearts, wanted to hear that her writing was brilliant. Don’t we all?
Unfortunately, it was quite the opposite. Comments ranged from helpful to nitpicky to petty. Poor soul. It’s hard to bounce back from that. Yet we all will be there at one point or another. I don’t think there has ever been a writer who has coasted through life without a bad review. There is always someone who will say the work sucked. Better to get used to it now, toughen up the skin and all that.
Only it makes me wonder. It’s easy to lambast bad writing. Okay, there are those who do it so well that it becomes it’s own entertainment –for better of worse. People have made a living tearing others down. And I admit to having a good chuckle now and then upon reading a scathing review.
Only one day that might be my writing someone is slashing to bits. Sure, I’ll have a thick skin by then. Already my skin has taken on a nice leather-like quality. Kid leather, perhaps. Strong enough to protect, but still supple. If one uses a sharp enough knife, slashes with enough gusto, it will tear. Perhaps someday I’ll have skin like pure rawhide.
I mean, beside the obvious errors of craft, what exactly qualifies as good or bad?
Case in point. My husband loves seafood. Oysters being on of his favorites. Raw oysters. Gak! I am often forced to sit there and watch him slurp down those glistening globs that resemble dead labia –yeah, I said it- and try to NOT vomit. Yet every time, every stinking time, I have to hear, “God, this is so good. Want to try?”
No, for the ten millionth time. I do not. Yet my husband can’t understand why I don’t. How can I possibly turn my nose up at one of nature’s most perfect foods?
Dude, CHOCOLATE is one of nature’s most perfect foods. Oysters are not. That is why they are protected by barnacle-covered shells. It’s nature’s way of saying, “Stay out! Only attempt if you are really, really, on the verge of dying from starvation, hungry.” Which, as anyone who has seen my ample butt can tell you, I am most certainly not.
Ahem. And then there is TV. My husband can happily spend hours on the couch watching Formula One racing. While I fall asleep next to him.
Whether an artistic work good or bad is really begging the question, thus one that won’t be solved by you or me. But it does lead to other slippery questions. *bg* Such as, how do you know if this writing gig is worth it? How do you know if you suck or not? The word of your critics? What if you simply haven’t found the right critics? What if you get a room full of oyster haters when you’re serving up a raw bar? If you’re published? Hello? Been on Amazon lately? A book might have a world of five star reviews and one star haters.
Yes, I’m aware that I’ve veered into sweeping generalizations here. But if one’s crap is another’s treasure, then what do we make of bad feedback? More importantly, what keeps us going?
Because this really isn’t about bad or good reviews. I’m more concerned about when to say when. Sometimes I think about how it took Deanna Raybourn fourteen years and multiple shot-down books to get published*. Would I have that sort of perseverance? I just don’t know. The idea of facing that makes me want to cry.
The truth is I am still in awe of Deanna for that. And thankful, because that never-die attitude brought us Julia Grey –a wonderful character –and brought me hours of entertainment. She just as easily could have said, “That’s it! I give up. Agents and publishers are telling me no. I must really suck.”
So I’m asking all of you: when do you give up? And why do you do keep at it?