Regarding Harsh Criticism


The other evening, I read this blog by Amanda Palmer. For those unfamiliar with her, Amanda Palmer is a singer/musician best known for her work with the Dresden Dolls, who also happens to be the wife of author Neil Gaiman. Her best-known work involves her singing while playing the piano, accompanied mainly by an awesome drummer and occasionally other musicians, but recently she’s recorded and played a lot of shows featuring her on the ukulele.

The first few paragraphs of the blog post discuss a forum thread  started by a longtime fan who hates what Amanda’s been doing for the past few years (aggressive merchandising, more ukulele playing than piano, etc).  Amanda doesn’t mind the thread at all, but advises other public figure types not to read such things about themselves on teh Interwebz. I have an entirely different viewpoint on the matter. My perspective is that of a writer, not a musician, but I think you’ll get the idea.

I understand, as one of my pals pointed out, brand-new authors might hit a few snags when it comes to public criticism of their work. They’ll have to get used to it. It might sting a bit when someone slags a story they’ve spent weeks or months on. Some critics simply don’t carry themselves in a respectful manner, and we can’t change that, either, as crappy as it is. For a new author, hobbyist, or someone who can afford to not sell their work any more, not reading public reviews/criticism may be a viable option. Authors who take their work seriously, however, are slightly more limited in their choices, in my opinion.

Now, this probably isn’t the Gospel truth for every author, but I figure on average we should seek out what the reading public thinks about us and our work, especially if we make our livings (or hope to some day) from our talents and the appreciation of those gifts by others. I’d rather read a thread about how I’m doing too much superhero stuff and need to write Moar Horror, for instance, rather than just wake up one day and not have any readers.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t feel obligated to make my work conform to readers’ wishes. If I write two vampire books and feel a strong urge to write a third, I’m going to write it even if there’s a whole forum thread about how people wish I’d do something else. But I also understand that readers aren’t obligated to buy something they don’t like, whether their issue is with the quality of my work of the subject matter I’m dealing with. I’m advocating awareness, not conformity.

If you’re too thin-skinned to take criticism with a grain of salt, figure out what’s useful and gloss over the rest, you’re probably going to have a short career as a serious creator, anyhow. Besides, if people aren’t sounding off about your work, both the good and bad aspects of it, it means they don’t give a shit about it. Which would you really prefer, when you stop and think about it?

And in case you’re wondering, I personally love Amanda’s work with the Dresden Dolls, and her 2008 solo album. The ukulele stuff..? Not so much, but I definitely can’t wait to see what she comes up with once she moves on.