While we’re cataloging aspects of blogging culture, let’s talk about another one. A kind of group discourse often takes place across the blogosphere, even unacknowledged at times. A call will ring out from one blog, and then echo in ten other places. Like fireflies in a summer field the spark is passed from one writer to another to another, rippling across cyberspace. One discussion currently in play relates to reviewers and criticism. I’ve obviously not experienced this yet as a writer (the reviews part, I mean—I’ve had my share of criticism already.) But both as a writer and agent I think Alison Kent’s comments yesterday were dead-on. Here’s a quote:
“See, that’s the thing. If I hear criticism of my work, the first thought that comes to mind is: Does the criticism register? I have never written a perfect book. I send them out into the world in the best shape possible given my skills at the time. But I can point to every book I’ve written and find things I wish I’d done differently. And if those things are ringing a reader’s or critic’s bells, then I listen. I learn. I take to heart the input and do what I can to better my craft. Isn’t that the point of constructive criticism? Whether given by readers, reviewers, or peers? It is for me!”
Let me cheer you on, Alison! Thank you. First of all, every bit of feedback I receive as a writer I welcome, even if it’s not comfortable. How else can I grow? How else can my clients grow if they don’t hear critique from me, editors, and ultimately their readers? And yet you’d be surprised how often, when I actually take the time to send an intensive personal critique on a submission, I’m met not with gratitude that I took the time, that I tried to give them thoughtful analysis of how to make the manuscript better, but rather with argument. I’ve had writers call me to debate me. I’ve had nasty emails that claim, “Well my critique group likes it!” After a while of this as an agent it almost makes you not want to bother. But you hang in because then there are the others. Writers with an outlook like that expressed by Allison above. They want to be the best they can be, and only with reader reaction and thought can their work ultimately be shaped—whether that critique come from editors, agents, fellow authors, or readers.
Let’s face it, writing is a solitary endeavor. Which makes the moment any reader takes up an author’s book a transcendent one—and that kind of mystical cooperation between reader and author shouldn’t be cheapened by the idea that we can drum the readers into lockstep reaction. We can’t make them march the way we ordain. We can only create the work, hope someone will enter the author-reader partnership, and then honor their reading by taking the comments to heart. We don’t have to agree with everything—nor do I expect everyone to agree with me when I give my agently commentary. But I do think respect is the key. Self-respect, respect for craft, and respect for one another.
The Internet age has ushered in the era of anonymous cruelty. Where opinions can turn nasty and abusive, and when you combine that with the age of correctness, dissenting voices (although dissenting from which opinion is the key here) are hammered into silence. At least in theory. Some of the best “voices” on the Net today don’t give a whit about the Netstapo types, and thank GOD for that. In an impersonal and faceless medium, it’s important to remember to hold onto our humanity.