Sunday, August 4, 2013

Office politics

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.

I 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 with her.)

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.

With 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!


  1. Enjoy the time off, Jennifer.

    This post is spot on. I take the same position on keeping to myself and mulling critique thoughts of others work.

  2. So, so, so well said, thank you. I don't review publicly, either, and if I do talk about a book I didn't like on my blog, I will not mention the name of the author or the book. You already know I adore all your books and cannot wait for your next one to come out, but I never expect other authors to tell me such things unless they truly are fans of my work. If they aren't, I don't take offense. It's all such a subjective thing what we like and don't like. I told a friend yesterday that even terribly-written books I've read, I still respect. Like you, I know what goes into writing a book, and it might not be terribly-written to another reader, so who knows!