Monday, June 08, 2009

Where would we be without the critic?

Yesterday, as GC Myers prepared for his opening at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria this coming weekend, he struck a remarkably sanguine, even philosophical pose on his blog.

It helps that this will be his tenth show at this gallery, and Gary has won a boatload of fans with his work, but still, the fear of the harsh critic strikes all of us who put our work in front of the public.

If you've tried to do anything other than be a greeter at Walmart, someone, somewhere has whispered, "Who do they think they are?" In the south it's called "getting above your raising" and for decades it's held people with talent to a life of small horizons.


But if you persevere, you eventually get used to it. You learn to accept criticism that is helpful and dismiss that which is hooey.

I have a friend who says that no one who has not (fill in the blank: wrote a book, shot a movie, field-stripped a moose) has the foundation to critique (novel writing, film shooting, field stripping) and I used to disagree. But the older I get, the more shaky I am on that principle.

Some critics work hard at their craft, which is different than writing a novel, etc. But some are just the dog in the manger, snarling at anyone who moves. Or moos.

Our friend, J.D. Rhoades had a positive Kirkus review (an achievement in itself) end with this glowing recommendation:

"Better than average, but not by much."

Writers in particular have the added joy of seeing their books reviewed on Amazon by people who have obviously suffered a head wound.

But of all the critics a writer can attract, and they are legion, none can be so toothless and random as those in a writers' group. I was in a great group for about ten years, and I still respect the people in that group because, through the process, they always made my work better. But every now and then I got a comment that made my eyebrows jump.

In my marathon WIP, one early reader complained that I mentioned big bands he'd never heard of, as if I should vet every cultural reference from the 40's with him, just in case.

I ran across this piece in McSweeney's. It's called “Comments Written by Actual Students Extracted From Workshopped Manuscripts at a Major University.” These are just a few and I encourage you to read the whole piece. Now, hang onto your hat.

"When this character says things like 'my sweaty balls,' he needs to say them more awkwardly."

"You talk about pregnant raindrops and chaos and auditory canals and 'the passing of time' as 'an orifice,' when you could really just be talking about humidity and ears."

"The one small area where I questioned the narrator's voice was in the section about the bathtub when he explicitly mentioned his shriveled penis and his use of prostitutes."

"You should really think about what it's like to find your daughter in bed with a butcher knife before you do the rewrite of this."

"It's your story, your voice, your choices, and I don't want to question them, but why these words?"
and my favorite:

"You probably don't need about half of what's written here."
That could apply to most of our work, couldn't it?

So, good luck with the show, Gary, and we hope you sell every painting.

Like this one:


Anonymous said...

David- Thanks for the good wishes. I'm looking forward to seeing you there.

The criticism I suffer is minor compared to the asshats (your word) who live anonymously in cyberspace and, like your snarling dog in a manger, criticize every word or phrase every uttered. I'm even leery of commenting on blogs because there's always some asswipe out there waiting to jump on any misstatement, like their point of view is the final word on everything.

Jesus, I gotta stop-- I feel like I just watched Morning Joe and I'm afraid my head might explode...

See you Friday!

Gerard Saylor said...

Is this a bad time to mention that you suck?

David Terrenoire said...


Nicely played, sir. You made me laugh out loud, which is distinctly different from an LOL.

Joe Saundercook said...

The big bands comment... It wasn't me, was it?

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