Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Supporting Each Other…or...Not

Was perusing the blogosphere today and came across this on the BookEnds blog: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2007/04/writers-revenge.html …and read the comments. And was dismayed. But, sadder still, wasn’t shocked. Or surprised. Being discussed was the issue of writers who pick on each other, undermine each other, snipe at each other, turn on each other…etc. What you might call your garden variety of “Writers Behaving Badly.” And it seems everybody’s got a tale to tell in this regard. Some of them were legitimately brutal. Some of the perpetrators would deserve nothing more than to be kicked out of the creative writing realm and barred forever from any contact with students, mentorees, or even fellow writers. But then again, others fall into a gray area. The gray area of “What I consider legitimate criticism, or merely a business decision, you could think is abuse and bad behavior.” Or, worse, “What you consider bad behavior isn’t bad…it just didn’t tell you what you wanted to hear.” I’ve been on at least one person’s “Writers Behaving Badly” list in the past year. And I didn’t snipe at anyone to get there. I didn’t undermine a single other soul to get there. I didn’t pick on anyone. All I did was express a belief I had. A belief that, in my professional organization, as well as in the writing world in general, apparently isn’t “okay” to hold. Because I did that, according to many, many posters, the best thing that could have happened to me was pretty much unprintable. I’ve also had people jump down my throat for a legitimate critique after claiming that’s what they wanted. I’ve had people tell me, “My creative writing teacher says it’s fine not to punctuate anything or capitalize anything. That’s my voice.” (Answer to that one? Your creative writing teacher might be an incompetent idiot.) Or, “All the _______ (you name the genre) books I see have this in them, so why can’t I do it, too?” (Answer to that one? You did it, all right, but you didn’t do it well yet, and I’m trying to help you do so.) Or, “How dare you tell me this isn’t good enough to get published? Big Name Vanity Publishing Company (or Small Penniless Press) says I’m the next shining star!” (Answer to that one? Follow the money. ‘Nuff said.) So consider this a cautionary note from one side of the trench…not to necessarily jump onto a bandwagon too fast when you’ve only heard one side of the “crit groups stink” or “only readers count, other writers are just jealous” sentiments. For every person who knows how to take legitimate criticism and work with it, there are a hundred who think you’re being “mean” or “dumb” or “arrogant.” And you’ll get labeled that way…and talked about that way…and sometimes, that kind of talk can hurt your career. It can certainly hurt feelings. Which is what some of these complainers forget: that the people they at times take such pleasure in vilifying are also human beings, with feelings, and with the same desire to succeed, and to look good doing it, that they have. Yes, protect yourself. Yes, have the guts to stand up to an abuser and tell him or her to take a long walk off the nearest short pier. But don’t let a few bad, rotten apples in the field scare you off letting anyone see your work, critique it, edit it, or brainstorm it with you. No one knows how to improve a writer like another writer. If you want undiluted praise, give your stuff to your friends. If you want to improve, however, odds are much better of doing so if you share it with another writer and mutually learn from the experience. My take, Janny

1 comment:

Donna Alice said...

Well said as always. It's funny that this topic came up because I am of two minds about crit groups and partners right now. For years, I didn't know anyone TO help me and I did everything pretty much alone. Yes, I got published, but I know there were things that could have been improved by a critical eye.

Fast forward to the past four years. I've writtn two books in the past 3 years (all finished--have a multitude of projects in progress.) One book will come out this summer and I have big hopes for the second which is being read at a BIG NAME publisher in a CLOSED house. Both of those books were run through a crit partner and a crit group. About eight people helped me shape those books. Most of the time I knew the advice was right and was gratful. A couple of times it went against what I knew to be true to the story and I left it in.

Recently, I had a couple of not so great experiences and thought maybe I'd just stop the crit stuff for awhile. (Keeping one group that I do need.) I know with myself I am very open to others opinion--sometimss so much so that I don't follow my own voice.

Last week I got the lovliest, personal rejection letter from another big house and she asked me to submit something else. I decided to dust off the first book I wrote for children which I KNOW needs help and send her 3 chapters. Have one crit partner I fairly trust to look it over but she's the only on. Am trying to dcide if I go with my instincts and trust myself (and her) or if I try to exchang crits with someone else.

It's a quandry anyway you look at it.

And, oh, yes, I've been on the editing end before and actually crushed someone's ms. (She told me so. BUT, she later said it was the best thing to happen and is on her fifth book and she's GOOD.) So I tell people, I'm honest--if you can't stand the heartbreaker crit, don't ask me. Not many do...LOL!