Criticism

by Laura Crum

I sometimes hear other writers, be they bloggers or more traditional authors, complain about those who criticize their work. This always leaves me puzzled. In my view, when we write for the public, whether it be a blog or a book, we are inviting criticism. We should expect it. If we don’t want to be criticized or have our work criticized, then we should not put our writing out to the public.
For instance, if I write a post about my approach to horses on the equestrian ink blog and get pleasant, supportive comments, it’s all very enjoyable. But it is perfectly possible that someone could comment, “I think you’re a poor writer, and I don’t think much of your approach to horses and you’re way too full of yourself and I wish you’d quit blogging.”
Is that a troll? Not in my opinion. That’s someone who doesn’t care for me and/or my writing and has seen fit to criticize me. There is no abuse in what was said there (by the way, I made it up), and my response would likely be, “So what exactly offended you? What is it about my writing and attitude you don’t like?”
I wouldn’t delete the comment, I wouldn’t feel threatened, and I would sure not think I should give up blogging because one (or a hundred) people didn’t like me or my work. Folks, that’s kind of the point of blogging. Discussion, pros and cons, agreement and disagreement. As long as no one threatens me or is abusive (foul language, ugly innuendos…etc) they can criticize all they want. It just makes it more interesting.
Now obviously all bloggers don’t feel this way. Any comment that isn’t positive and supportive is construed as hurtful by some, and the person who said it is often called a troll. In my opinion, that’s ridiculous.
I’ve been writing published novels for twenty years and have had plenty of negative reader reviews in my time. Even a few scathing ones…go look around on Amazon if you want to see them—not everyone has liked my books. So are these people trolls? Are they stalking me? Of course not. It’s called criticism. I expect it. Any professional writer gets used to it.
Is criticism fun? No, its not. We all like it when people admire our writing and say nice things. No one likes to be told that his/her writing is awful. No one likes to hear personal criticism. But that IS going to happen once in awhile when you put your writing and your thoughts out to the public. People will hate what you said because it pushed a button in them, like a former fan of my work who was an independent single woman, and just hated it when I gave my protagonist a baby. You should have heard the nasty reviews she put up on Amazon. Of course I didn’t like it. But she’s darn sure entitled to her opinion. And you will never please all the people all the time.
If you speak your truth its best to be clear that at least a few people aren’t going to like it. And these people may decide to say so. That’s the price of putting your writing out to the public. If you don’t want to pay that price, well, don’t put your writing out to the public. It reminds me of famous actors who say they value privacy above all else. Huh? If you want privacy, don’t seek fame.
What really gets me is bloggers who put stuff out there that clearly not everybody will agree with and then are hurt/upset when people “call” them on what they said. What exactly did they think was going to happen? If you assume an attitude of being “knowledgeable” on a subject, be it horses or whatever, and you say, however sweetly and gracefully, “This is how I do it, and I don’t like this other method,” which, of course, is just fine for you to say, you are inevitably going to find that someone thinks you’re all wrong, and if its “their” method you don’t like, they are likely to give you some grief along the lines of how ignorant you are. Is this a troll? Not unless they threaten you or use abusive language (in my opinion). Its called criticism. And again, if you don’t like it, you shouldn’t put your writing out to the public.
Sure, sometimes people are critical just out of the desire to be nasty, and sure, sometimes certain bloggers get targeted by someone who doesn’t like them (though in some cases, it seems quite obvious why the blogger was targeted—if you say arrogant and/or derisive things on your blog someone is likely to take offense), and there isn’t anything pleasant about it. There’s nothing pleasant about reading an aggressively critical review of your book, either. But it comes with the territory. Again, minus threats or abusive language or infringement of your personal space, it’s all fair. And emails or blog comments are not infringement of your privacy. You cannot count how many negative emails I have gotten over the years on all kinds of topics—I replied politely to all of them, though I found it quite fair to rebut those who criticized me. As in, “You may not like it that my protagonist is not a traditional Christian, but I equally don’t like traditional Christians who assume that they are the only ones who are right.” And, to a miffed librarian, “Yes, my protagonist cusses when she’s in a stressful situation. So do I.”
The thing is, you don’t have to read emails you don’t want to read, you can delete comments you don’t like. These people are doing you no real harm. And again, if this kind of attention is so upsetting to you, then it’s best not to put your writing and thoughts out to the public.
OK, there’s my thoughts on this subject. I welcome all responses, including those who think I’m dead wrong and want to criticize me. Fire away.

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7 Responses

  1. You are out of your mind. How can you think such a thing? You must have been raised by wolves to even suggest anyone should put up with that sort of thing! Why of course anybody that would tell you that you are wrong under the vale of anonymity is a troll and, and worse! They are among the most disgusting of our culture and should not be tolera… oh, wait… umm,,, never mind. 😉 Bill

  2. Bill, you are hilarious. Yup, that’s exactly what I mean. Certain bloggers/authors, who shall be nameless, do sort of over react to a bit of criticism. Thanks for the comment–totally cracked me up.

    • Laura, I think you have a wonderfully positive outlook on criticism. I guess it all depends on the tone of the criticism. If it’s meant as constructive, then one can learn from it. Or decide: okay, this is one person’s viewpoint, and let it roll over you without hurting. I recall that Virginia Woolf went to bed for a week after a bit of adverse criticism!
      I guess I do too. It does hurt. But then I try to see where the other person is coming from and it hurts a bit less. But if it’s blatantly unfair and written to amuse others, well, I’d balk at that. Anyway, this is a hot topic, and you’re brave to confront it.

  3. But Nancy, don’t we all deal with this all the time?

  4. Nancy, I guess I should add that of course I don’t enjoy negative criticism, either. And there may be authors out there who have never had a bad review, and so don’t have to deal with it. However, I am not in this category, so have had to grow a thick skin.

  5. Then there are those reviews/comments that come that tell you you’re their favorite author. (Now those people are on the ball!) Putting both sides in perspective, learning to gain something from every piece of thoughtful criticism is tricky!

    • Camille–I guess we all love those “This is my new favorite author,” reviews. And some negative reviews make an understandable point. But then there are those who simply HATE a given book, and frequently those reviews are right next to someone who LOVED the book and gave it five stars. What I’ve learned from this is that often its not about the book, its about the taste of the reviewer. And, of course, I persist in thinking that the ones who love my books have good taste. (Doesn’t every author do this?)

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