Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Quote o' the week -- listening (or not) to "constructive criticism"

"It is what it is and it did what it do." -- supposedly said by Rasheed Wallace

Driving home from a chilly weekend at the folks' cottage, I wound up listening to a sports radio call-in show, and the DJ was talking about this statement. I don't know if Rasheed Wallace, who I gather plays basketball (I am no sports fan), actually said this, but it tickled my funny bone. It also made me think again about something that's been on my mind for the past several days, and that's the nature of "constructive criticism" when it comes to writing.

I gather this has been a hot topic on some message boards, and as always, plenty of people are of the opinion that when an author submits his or her work for publication, s/he should have the ol' stiff upper lip when it comes to criticism. Fair enough. You send your work out into the big wide world, you can't expect everybody to love it, or even like it. You can hope that your efforts and you, the author, will be treated with some respect or even common courtesy, as everyone who ventures outside their front door hopes, but don't count on it.

However, the term "constructive criticism" implies (at least to me) that the person doing the criticizing believes they are right. That they are more right than you, the author. That they know more than you, or are more "expert". That there is, indeed, a "right" way to write -- and so there is, if you want to appeal to that one person. If you follow his or her advice in the guise of constructive criticism, you will probably please them more next time. But -- and this is major -- you may also be doing the very worst thing to appeal to another reader.

Does that mean one should ignore criticism? No, but it doesn't mean I should listen to it and/or follow any advice, whether well-meaning or otherwise, either. After all, it's not the critic's name on the book, it's mine. And even if I were to try, the same book can get different reactions, and then what's an author to do?

That said, I don't just ignore criticism or reviews, even though some of it can be very difficult to hear. I'll often bear some of those opinions in mind with the next book -- but only if I feel the comments were "on the money." In other words, if I agree the criticism has some merits. Otherwise, I ignore it. I have to. I'd go nuts trying to "please all of the people all of the time."

So for me, the bottom line has to be: I write what I write; it is what it is; it does what it do. I hope people like it. If they don't, that bothers me, but when it comes to the next book, the person I have to satisfy first and foremost is me.

Coming soon: why I was glad Aaron and FLOTUS on 24 didn't kiss. Why I now fully understand the appeal of the night cap (as in clothing, not the drink). My latest outlining method (I swear I have a different one for every book!). And possibly the Saga of the Broken Tooth (still being "written").

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