My kids were watching Ratatouille a few days ago, and I caught the very end where Anton Ego, the food critic, gives his monologue reviewing the restaurant. A portion of it struck me, especially in light of what happened with a friend of mine today, a creative–though not a writer–as she received some stinging criticism of her work.
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.”
I’m so thankful for those who have been kind to me in my growth as an author, especially when I was “the new” and needed friends.
A while back, I contacted a writer I admired to tell her I really liked her book, which I had just read and loved. She responded, asking me whether I was the author of (then-titled) Delicious Conversation, and if so, she appreciated me because when she’d read it, she realized there was a market for the things she wanted to write.
What? Really? I was stunned. My little puff of cotton candy entertainment had been inspiring to someone? (I realized that she probably meant that what I’d been putting into the market was something a little different, perhaps because I see the world through a weird filter different from that of others, but that maybe it meant her world-view would be accepted too.)
I was so thankful she told me that, and it gave me the courage to go on and keep trying and going ahead and writing the stuff I wanted to write, whether or not a critic thought it was worth something. It was worth something to her, and to a few others, and that—makes it all worth my effort.
Fast forward, now that author is no longer “the new.” She’s award-winning, and she’s made a lot of readers smile and cry and laugh and think. So, for that I’m really grateful too.
Putting my work out there for public consumption leaves it open to criticism—kind or harsh. I’m aware of that, and every single time I hit “publish” it takes incredible courage. Every single creative person out there understands that we’re opening ourselves up to be spat upon and eviscerated by critics. But because we believe that our art may just help one person, we forge ahead.
For that reason, I’ve developed a way to think about art that doesn’t resonate with me. Instead of saying, “I didn’t like that book,” or that picture or that photo or movie, I now think to myself, “I wasn’t the audience for that film.” That leaves it open for others to enjoy, and it doesn’t reflect badly on the artist or those that enjoy it. There are a lot of books and movies and paintings I adore, but that probably aren’t to others’ taste. I’m good with that. You might not be the audience for my books, or any given one of my books over the others. That’s okay. We can still be friends. (Although if you happen to go on and on about how much you disliked my work, expect that I might decide you’re easier to love at a distance for a while, just because I’m a little tenderhearted about my work at times.) It’s absolutely possible to give an honest review without being cruel.
I’m aware that I still have a long way to go to become a truly great writer, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get there or if I’ll just muck about in mediocrity all my days. Still, I do see small improvements in my craft all the time as I study and practice and work as hard as I can at it.
I’m truly grateful that my efforts didn’t get slammed to the curb as hard as they could/should have been while I was “the new.” Huge gratitude to everyone who has supported me as I’m growing. I hope I can support others’ creative efforts as well.