Last week I made the mistake of critiquing something online that was written by someone I hardly know. This person didn’t ask me to critique it; it was only a general call for comment on a small opening paragraph in first draft. Now, personally, I think sharing a first draft is like sharing an uncooked pie—hard to cut and even harder to get out of the pie tin. In addition, the person didn’t know me or my work—I don’t have a “name” or reputation—and had no reason to trust a word that I wrote. And I wrote plenty. (When will I learn?)
But this is not about my woeful and misbegotten critique. It’s about respect for the craft. Any craft—painting, acting, architecture, dancing, singing, writing, whatever—anything that requires experience, practice, time and the input of others who know what they’re talking about. Shortly after I posted my lengthy critique, encouraging this person to get some more practice in, get input from a writing group, etc., before attempting to publish, I got slapped hard (my name wasn’t mentioned, but unlike my private critique, this was public) for being “mean and vicious.” Condescending and arrogant I’ll accept, but mean and vicious?
Anyway, I swore off critiquing online where my tone of voice and my facial expressions can’t be included in the picture and where they don’t know me from Eve so who am I to say anything negative. Then I moved on with my life.
Last night on American Idol, I watched as three very talented, very experienced and very committed judges (Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban) gave magic golden tickets for the next stage of the competition to contestants they felt had a chance and denied the same to those they felt either needed to practice more to try in another year or needed to reconsider their life choices. They rejected these people (the ones the show followed through the process) in as gentle a way as they could while still being honest. Most of the rejects came out of the audition room in tears, hugged their friends and family and appeared to pretty much get on with it, some vowing to work on improving and then return to try again.
A couple, however, got pissed. The following are not direct quotes, but they capture the essence. “That Harry Connick is stupid. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” “I’m the best American Idol contestant ever. They’re idiots for turning me down.” The gist was that these people hadn’t been listening. They didn’t care about craft; they cared about fame. And that’s the stupidest way to approach the creative life where fame is rare and fleeting and the work and the process should be the real reward that you seek.
My advice to this person I insulted badly was to learn the craft and then finish the book (with all the hard work that entails, not to mention the writing) and only then to consider getting it published. I see too many books shot up to the magical place in the sky where electronic books go to live that haven’t been rewritten once, nor have they been proofread or edited by anyone other than the author. This gives all of us indies a bad reputation. Yeah, what you, the unwilling-to-trust-the-process author, do is screw it up for those of us who struggle with commas and “just” and “only” and why-would-the-character-do-that-when-they’ve-never-done-it-before dilemmas.
So please, I beg of you, do this one thing when you choose any creative endeavor. Give a shit. It matters.