Critique is not an easy thing to deal with for a lot of people. Criticism–whether constructive or otherwise–can really be a punch to the gut for anyone. No matter which industry in which a person is employed, critique is going to be part of the deal.
Every job I’ve ever had, from washing dishes and other people’s messes to the corporate world, has involved performance reviews. Of course, when you work in a “traditional” job with more structure, performance reviews are quite different than when you are, essentially, a self-employed writer.
In a “traditional” job, the performance review involves a meeting, sitting down with a supervisor or manager (or executive) and talking about your strengths and weaknesses. You are graded, reprimanded for the things you might be doing wrong, rewarded for the things you are doing right, or told to “just keep doing your job so well.”
When you’re a writer, your critiques and performance reviews come in a much different format(s).
Reviewers, beta-readers, critique partners, editors (of all sorts), friends, family, and trolls are the barometer for how well you performed your job. It comes at you from all directions in multiple formats–DMs, emails, one-on-one, blog posts, social media…in can be frightening. It can chip away at a creative’s confidence. Also…it’s just not fun to hear that maybe you weren’t perfect, right?
Regardless, critique is an integral component of learning to be better at whatever job you are performing. Everybody should welcome constructive criticism and learn how to evaluate it so that they can learn to be better.
But that’s not what this post is about.
While critiques and constructive criticism are integral to bettering ourselves, there is a dark underbelly to the Writing Community (and any creative community) where reviews, critiques, criticism, and complaints stop being helpful and are simply harmful and sadistic.
Often people equate honesty and rudeness. “Keeping it real” is a phrase often used to excuse socially inappropriate and cruel discourse. “Only the real ones” is another phrase used to try and deflect focus from the fact that a person is just outright obnoxious and cruel. People like to attack other people simply because they didn’t like something.
When did giving a personal opinion about a piece of art become so…personal?
I’ve seen my share of reviews in the past where a reviewer writes 5000+ words (a dissertation, really) about why they hated a book, movie, T.V. show, or whatever. The person writing the review put so much effort into ripping the creative to shreds that one has to wonder what is really going on. I’m not talking about a reviewer discussing cultural appropriation, racism, homophobia, or other problematic elements. They simply hated the story, the characters, the plot, the book cover, they found spelling, grammar, formatting, or punctuation errors. Nothing that should have filled their belly with such hate that they took hours out of their life to discuss these things at such length.
But those reviews exist. A lot of them do.
You’ll see people on Twitter randomly retweeting authors tweets (authors they don’t follow and haven’t tagged them) with snarky captions or outright vitriol. Sometimes they’ll say something that is racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise hateful about the author. Sometimes what they say has a ring of truth to it, but it’s just rude for the sake of being rude.
This is where I get exhausted with the idea of reviews, criticism, and critique. If you have to be rude about something simply because you didn’t like it, it wasn’t up to your standards, or you just didn’t enjoy it as much as you felt you should have…it’s time to pause, take a breath, and consider what’s really going on in your own head.
Far too recently, it has occurred to me that there is a growing collective interest in not just giving our opinions, but making it an emotionally/mentally and time-consuming mission to not only make sure that everyone knows our opinion, but they are beaten over the head with it until they begrudgingly agree just so the discussion can end. I HATED THIS PIECE OF WORK SO IT IS NOW MY LIFE’S MISSION TO MAKE SURE EVERYONE ELSE FEELS THE SAME WAY AND IF THEY DON’T THEY ARE WRONG AND I WILL MAKE SURE THEY ARE PUT ON BLAST FOR IT!
I mean…aren’t we all exhausted? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I just don’t have the emotional or mental energy to take up such a cause. I don’t enjoy a lot of things. But it’s not worth my time and effort to make sure everyone knows it.
Additionally, do these take-downs really serve any purpose other than giving the take-down artist a moment of perverse and evil joy? They’re addicted to it. Once they completely obliterate one target, they’re on to the next. They’re chasing the dragon. And the dragon will never be caught. Take-down artists–rude people with opinions and too much time on their hands–serve no purpose. They rarely get upset about things that are worth getting upset about (at least, not to that degree) but, instead, simply zero in on a creative for an arbitrary reason, and go into attack mode.
To what end?
To ruin someone’s day? Their career? To humiliate them so that someone else can feel good for having humiliated them?
It’s rude. It’s cruel. And it does nothing to make the world (or the writing community) a better place. There will always be another writer you hate to replace the one you just destroyed, and there will always be an army of trolls waiting to step up to the front of the line. It’s cyclic, annoying, exhausting, and meaningless.
Rudeness, for the sake of being rude, helps no one. It underlines a deeply-rooted problem with the person being rude for the sake of being rude. Because it makes them feel better about their own shortcomings and so they don’t have to think about all the ways in which they are not perfect either. You didn’t like a book? You hated it? Leave a review that says: “I didn’t like this book.” or: “I hated this book.” Give it 1-star, and move on with your day. If you want to be specific and say “The characters made me hate this book.” then fine. Do that. But move on. Don’t hop on Twitter or your blog or your TikTok or your…you get the idea…and start a take-down campaign.
Might I suggest a hobby? Or a life? Or classes on how to interact with others? Maybe therapy to try and find the root cause of why you want to humiliate the destroy other people?
My feeling about critiques and criticisms of all sorts is this: Come at me bro…kindly. If you want to tell me what I could do to improve, that’s great! If you want to tell me you didn’t like my book and why, that’s great! If you want to point out a mistake I made, that’s great! But if you’re doing it just to be rude (or present it rudely) or to humiliate me, I’m going to be rude back.
Like most creatives, I work hard to create my art. It’s rarely, if ever, perfect (in fact, I guarantee you that it never is). I know that. You know that. But that doesn’t mean that it lacks merit altogether. And it doesn’t negate the fact that I’m a living, breathing human being with feelings who deserves dignity and respect in my interactions with others. I don’t expect everyone to be super nice to me or be effusive about how much they love my work–that’s unrealistic. I know my work will certainly not be for everyone--I write LGBTQ+ YA a lot, for goodness sakes!–but I don’t expect to be harassed and treated like shit, either.
So…if anything, I would like to point out, once again, that honesty and rudeness are not synonymous. There’s a way to tell someone that you found multiple spelling and grammar errors in their book without feeling like you have to make them feel like they are the dumbest person you’ve ever encountered. People who want to make others feel like they are worthless are not good people–no matter how they justify their behavior(s) in their head. While someone may be technically right about an issue with a book, doing it in a way intended to humiliate another is not just rude, it’s cruel. And, what have we learned…?
Rudeness is not synonymous with honesty. Just because you were honest doesn’t mean that you’ve acted appropriately in your interactions with others.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,