Friday, September 23, 2011

Is It Wise To Criticize?

Greetings, earthlings. I apologize for not blogging in over a month. I was very busy packing for college and starting classes at college, and doing other college-y things. (And college is awesome, by the way.)

Now, I should probably be writing (since I haven't in ... uh ... forever) but my brain is clogged up right now. So, I'm going to write about a subject that's been cooking at the back of my head for a long time. It's a topic I'm always nervous to bring up ... and that's authors criticizing other authors.

Here's the thing. I love writing. You all know that. I love reading as much as I love writing. And when I read books, I review them. I do my reviews on Goodreads, and they're not meant to be particularly professional. I write them for fun. Furthermore, I feel like I should share my thoughts on every book I read. I spent my time reading those books, so why not review them?

Obviously, I don't like everything I read. Sometimes my reviews are negative. However, I don't mean to make any ad hominem attacks on any authors. I never say an author is stupid or fat just because I didn't like his/her book. But if I don't connect with a character in a story, or there's a plot twist I find illogical, I'm going to say so. I do try to find something positive in everything I read, and I always point it out in my reviews, but I can't pretend I love everything.

About a year ago, I posted a review on Goodreads that was pretty dang negative. As hard as I tried, I could find very little I liked about this book, besides that the prose was okay. I found it illogical, boring, sexist ... I could go on and on. So, I said so, giving examples to back up my thoughts. That is, it's not like I wrote some review that said, "LoL dis book is lyk sooo stoopid. I H8ed it. lolz." It was pretty specific.

Yet, soon there were a bunch of people leaving comments on the review along the lines of, "How can you be so harsh? How would you feel if someone wrote a review like this for your book?"

Well, the thing is, people have said negative things about my writing. Very negative things. I've been told my stories are too emo, too clich├ęd, too boring. I've been told my characters are stupid and unlikable. I've been told that I can't structure a sentence properly. This criticism came from other writers, from agents, from Publishers Weekly, you name it.

I don't love getting scathing feedback. It can be overwhelming, especially when I start to realize I might have to totally scrap something and start over. But, although it's never a warm, fuzzy feeling, you learn to live with it if you're a writer. If you never received criticism, your art would never develop. In the end, I'm always grateful for feedback––no matter how harsh it is––because it pushes me to work harder and get better at what I love to do.

Of course, the typical troll reaction to that argument is, "Oh, so you're just bitter because this author is published and you're not. Well, if you were any good at writing, you would be published too. And this book wouldn't be published if it wasn't good. So, nyah nyah."

Right. Well.

I'm not going to deny that at times, I feel bitter. When you work so hard on your own writing, and you read a book that doesn't tickle your fancy, it can be frustrating. You get that feeling like, "Why is this person published and I'm not?"

Being a writer, you get extra picky. You know it's important to craft a good plot, to develop your characters well, to show and not tell, to avoid horrible grammar mistakes, etc. And when you see these errors in published books, it's hard not to notice them. So personally, when I review books, I point out the flaws, just as I would do if another, unpublished writer asked me for an honest critique.

Yet, there are those who believe that honesty among writers is a bad thing. I've read numerous blog posts that say authors should have nothing but praise for each other. They say we're all here to hold hands and support each other, and that's it. In my opinion, these people are more concerned with karma than with developing as artists. They don't give negative reviews because they don't want to receive them.

But what if, one day, you have to meet the author you criticized face-to-face? Well, I can't deny that such a situation might be awkward, but on the other hand, I think it's best to be honest. I consider my reviews to be constructive, and I treat published and unpublished writers equally. In both cases, my criticisms are meant to help and not to hurt anyone's feelings. If an author were to stumble upon my review of his/her book, I hope it would give him/her something to think about. I know that every review I've received, no matter how scathing, has at least given me something to think about improving in my work. If an author is professional enough, I think he/she should know how to find the helpful hints in negative reviews, and to not get angry at every person who criticizes him/her. Because––let's face it––if you're an author, you're going to get criticized. You're going to get bashed. You're going to get ripped apart. If other authors hold back their negative comments, it's not going to change that fact.

So, fellow writers, what do you think? Do you ever write critical reviews––and if you do, do you think they're helpful or harmful?