When I saw this Tumblr in which Maureen Johnson quoted Sarah Rees Brennan I made a note of it, because it discussed several things that come up for writers once we venture beyond our own writing caves and start to interact with one another--and with one another's work. In a way, these issues are our version of office politics. Our office just has more widely spaced desks than most offices, and our watercooler is the internet.
As Maureen says, paraphrasing Sarah, "it can be hard
for us to talk about other authors because there is a difference between
the person and the work." And I love when she says, "Sometimes we have
to cut each other some slack. A point of disagreement does not equal
hate. And a brief encounter or reading about someone online does not
mean that you know them."
All true, for me at least. It's
interesting dealing with other writers because we may find a real person
more or less compelling than his or her work. More or less interesting,
more or less offensive, more or less inspiring, more or less our cup of
tea. It's wonderful when we adore the writer and the work, but
it doesn't always happen that way. This is why I don't ask other writers
what they think of my work, unless we are in a critique relationship. I
presume that if they feel the burning need to say something about my
work, they will; but if they didn't like it or haven't read it, then I
have no desire to put us both on the spot like that.
Most of the
time, I can separate myself from my work; I can follow the wise advice
not to take things personally. (Sometimes people make it personal,
offering not literary criticism but abuse--but that's another situation
entirely.) But my work is precious to me. I put a lot of effort and
emotion into it. Other writers do, too. We're colleagues. And whether a
book happens to float my own personal boat or not, I can at least
respect my colleague's effort. I know what goes into writing a book.
do think that writers can give one another negative but thoughtful
reviews, and they can discuss things that they find problematic in one
another's work, without this being seen as an attack or unneighborly.
Negative reviewing is not something I do publicly myself, but that's a
choice I've made only for me, a choice on how I want to spend my limited
hours. I have the utmost respect for writers who can fill those roles,
and frankly, I think we need them. I don't think our "workplace" has to
be sugarcoated in relentless flattery--it wouldn't be good for us, and
it wouldn't be good for our readers.
I choose to ponder the
criticisms I have of others' work in private; it's part of studying my
craft. Sometimes I'll discuss a criticism in general terms on my blog
without naming the author or book, boiling down the problem to its
essential lesson. (In fact, my stripping out the specific identifying
info of a book has become so automatic to me, that a writer friend
recently asked me why I was being rather cloak-and-dagger when
discussing a certain literary problem in a private email conversation
I think that when we start from a place of respect for
one another, our community is at its strongest--whether we're agreeing
or disagreeing, praising or criticizing, congratulating one another for a
job well done or pushing one another to become better. And though we're
not required to take abuse, we can give one another the benefit of the
doubt because, as Maureen says, we are not all at our very best every
moment of the day. Sometimes we are grumpier or less patient or less
insightful than we wish we could be. Sometimes we have toothaches.
this post, I'll be taking a short break from blogging, to attend to
some offline business and pleasure. See you in about a week!