Friday, April 03, 2009

When Everyone's a Critic

or, Good Griefer!

We writers can be a terribly sensitive bunch, especially when it comes to our literary creations. Oh, sure -- we may say "I don't care what the critics say," but we don't mean it any more than your mother means it when she says "it's fine if you don't come home for Christmas."

Of course we'd like critical acclaim -- whether it's accepting the Pulitzer, the Nobel, the Tony, or the Oscar. Frankly, 5 stars, a "9" or a "10," or even a "thumbs up" from an established, reputable critic can go a long way toward vindicating the single-minded effort it takes to push through the rejection that often earmarks a writer's early days.

I was ecstatic, for instance, when American Equine Publications named Dr. Warson's book one of the Top 3 Books of the Year. And I always enjoy it when my publishers send me clippings with favorable reviews. I don't think it's vain to rejoice when voices in the industry praise your efforts.

(Likewise, if a respected reviewer offers less than glowing praise for a project, it may be worthwhile to at least consider the validity of the pan... before deciding that the reviewer is an idiot who would be better suited to taste-testing toxic waste.)

Whether or not we give credence to the opinions of professional reviewers, however, any writer worthy of the name will soon learn to beware the "Look, Ma! I'm a Critic" homegrown-variety reviewer that the internet has spawned.

Suzanne Male addressed the "griefer," this denizen of the digital world in her excellent post on Smink Works Books' blog last month.

You may think "but if my book is good enough everyone will like it," but the nature of the Internet has proved this a naive thought.

For people who have never put themselves out there - started a business, launched a new product, or made anything like a film, book or art exhibition, it's impossible to know what it's like to do such a thing. But it would be good if they did. For people wield their negative reviews, flippant comments and cutting remarks with abandon and little or no understanding or empathy.

The Internet has fostered this comment-without-responsibility situation. A derisive comment could come from a 12-year-old, an 'anonymous' competitor or someone who hasn't even read the book, or used the product, for all you know. And yet this 'customer feedback' can make or break a product.

I'm not writing this because I'm peeved at a bad review. Like many writers, I rarely read the online reviews of my work. But I've been online lately, reading reviews of movies and shows that I like, and the lack of quality reviewing (let alone basic accuracy) is staggering. I find myself wondering "Did we even see the same movie?"

Don't take my word for it. Check out what both Griefers and "Glowers" (raving fans) have to say about your favorite films or books. Perhaps that, more than anything else, will drive home the fact that not all reviewers are competent. Or qualified. Or even semi-literate.

I guess the bottom line is, to make it in this business, you've got to keep writing, work only on projects you fervently believe in (so you can champion them against their detractors), and let the words in your head drown out the Griefers in the world. These days, everyone's a Critic. But not everyone's a Creative.

Here's to the Creatives in my life! And a pox on those stunted souls who use their words to tear the work of others down without first producing something useful of their own!

Writing Updates

The Major Project for the USHJA is sooo near completion, I can almost bask in the glow of the light at the end of the tunnel. Another week or two, and it should be done. One hopes...

My biopic screenwriting project is consuming a significant portion of every day. Paul (the director, co-writer, and collaborator) and I are doing a line-by-line evaluation of the script. We fight for our favorite scenes and our favorite lines.

(Paul: You write like a girl!
Me: Because... I am! And, hopefully, half of our viewing audience will be, too.
Paul: I hate this scene.
Me: I love it. It stays.
Paul: Fine. For now. But it will be the first thing I cut in editing.
Me: Yeah, yeah, yeah... Once you film it, you'll forget all about this, think you wrote it, and think it's brilliant.
Paul: Ok, that's going on the slug list--)

Since we are 2500 miles away from each other, we keep a running "slug list" of things we need to smack the other person for... It's all a bit Keystone Cops, but it seems to work for us.

And I'm plugging away on Ryan's book. I hope to have the bulk of it written in the next few weeks, and then be able to edit it through the rest of April and into May.

Never a dull moment. Anything to give the critics something to chew on!