Isn’t it funny when our writing is critiqued that we secretly cringe on the inside . . . even when we ask for someone’s opinion? Writing is an art, the same as any other art form. A writer places himself into a work, as a painter or sculptor would do, and there is a deep connection with the work. The connection is personal; therefore the critique is taken personally, as if the writer is being critiqued, not the work. Ernest Hemingway made the connection of writer and work so simply, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”
How does a writer deal with criticism?
Is it possible to grow numb to negative criticism? With every batch of good comments, there is an ugly one that grabs the writer’s attention and seemingly punches him in the gut. How could someone not like this? And by not liking the work, the writer has been rejected personally. Is it possible to shrug off the comments? Uncle Walt, in “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” pointed to this course of action:
WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
It is the work. An author must have time to take a step back and feel good about the work and ignore the comments that drowns the beauty of art. Sir Stephen Spender wrote about how hard it is to turn a deaf ear to a “conversation that is going on behind [the writer’s] back.” He continued, “the conversation is more disconcerting than useful to a writer.” A writer must have a thick skin and continue honing the craft. If Faulkner, Steinbeck, or even Fitzgerald had seriously taken only a few of the things written about them, they would have withdrawn within their first novel, aborting the births of what was to come. After The Great Gatsby was released to mixed reviews, Fitzgerald wrote a his editor about the comments: “I think all of the reviews I’ve seen, except two, have been absolutely stupid and lousy. Someday they’ll eat grass, by God!” . . . And they did.
Should the comments stoke the fire?
As Mr. Fitzgerald has shown, passion is always a great way for a writer to pour himself into his work and allow the creative juices to flow . . . and get even with the naysayers. Hemingway and others did the same thing. A writer’s muse should not be one directional, meaning that only sympathy or agony or one other emotion fuels the urge and need to write. Allowing the complexity of all emotions to create a drive within the writer will open a complex touch of layered writing to the craft. It was Aristotle who wrote, “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Writers cannot allow the course of their craft to be determined by the words of others. The great Gertrude Stein said that writers don’t need criticism, they need appreciation.
Or do they?