Writers, like any other sort of artist, can be very sensitive to criticism of their art. Stories are the children of our mind, and like any good parents, we hate to see them abused, misunderstood, or generally spoken-ill-of.
However, writing is a very public vocation. If all goes well, many people will read our stories. Chances are, a significant fraction of those people won’t like them. I find myself recycling old bits of folk wisdom: “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred.” “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.” “Sticks and stones, et cetera.”
New writers can be particularly thin-skinned because they’re encountering the slings and arrows of the world for the first time. It’s like running barefoot for the first time. Rocks hurt. As you gain experience, the skin gets thicker, and the rocks don’t hurt so much, at least not enough to inspire tears and a general call to have your boo-boo tended. Negative criticism is accepted as a normal part of life. You smile and nod, and press on.
I’m finding Christian writers seem more susceptible than average to negative criticism. They have expectations, especially of Christian readers and reviewers. Brothers and sisters in Christ are supposed to be nice. We don’t say negative things about each other. We encourage and support. If you think my baby is ugly, you keep that nasty thought to yourself–and ask God to forgive you.
Except–it doesn’t work that way. Christian writers often garner even more critical feedback than their secular peers, because, again, there are expectations. Christian writing must be uplifting, morally sound, and doctrinally correct. It must not offend, irritate, stir controversy or be in any other way, for lack of a better term, un-Christian.
It makes things tough. You’re skipping tra-la through Sherwood Forest, then a hundred gentlemen in green livery burst from the underbrush, aiming all manner of pointy objects at your jugular. And they’re supposed to be the good guys. It’s just not fair.
Clearly, there needs to be a balance. Criticism makes us stronger, if we’re willing to listen to our readers and reviewers with an open mind and learn from their observations. “Iron sharpens iron,” “two are better than one,” and “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” On the other side, feedback can be honest and loving without descending into patronizing or bluntness, though that line can be easy to cross without meaning to, particularly in electronic correspondence that lacks tone of voice, body language, and all the other non-verbal cues we rely upon to interpret human communication. Is that 🙂 emoticon a friendly or a sarcastic smile? Hard to tell.
Here are some ideas to chew on. One is an excellent article on giving and receiving criticism from Orson Scott Card’s webzine, Intergalactic Medicine Show. The other is a video that illustrates the fact that there’s really no such thing as bad publicity, if you handle it properly. Enjoy. I’ve got to go kiss an ugly baby now.