Another older post I've just left hanging out there forever...
The joy of having your first novel reviewed by the New York Times Book Review quickly turns to horror when it turns out to be a succinct dismissal. Ronlyn Domingue writes about what that feels like.
Although the advice to have a thick skin was well-meant, it is emotionally dishonest. Sharing one’s writing is a naked act not intended for the meek. Harsh words can—and sometimes do—undermine the most confident, successful writers. It’s human. It’s okay. It will pass. Now, my guidance to myself, and others, is to have a permeable skin, one that doesn’t resist or trap the good or the bad. Reviews, critiques, comments come in, then move on. Then there’s space, inside and out, for something new.
Every artist experiences the little deaths that come with work in a creative field. In fiction writing seminars in college, every story you wrote would be read out loud, and then the others in the class would take turns offering their critiques. In film school, the same was done for our scripts, rough cuts, fine edits, final works.
Professors always counsel everyone to be civil with their criticism, to keep it about the work and not the person, but I suspect it's impossible to ever accept even the most even-tempered of criticism of one's work without suffering the smallest of deaths (the French use la petite mort in another sense, of course, but it's always felt more accurate here).
But even if your classmates and peers are respectful and professional, and for the most part I'd say my creative writing and film school peers were very much so, at some point if you're to succeed in your field you'll have to put your work out there for an audience that isn't in the same room with you, that isn't operating under the potential collateral damage of your potential subsequent feedback on their work. Then the gloves come off.
The internet has only accelerated that. It's given everyone a megaphone, and even if they're shouting into the wind (2 followers, one his mother, the other is Candy327, 5 tweets), Google or Twitter is saving their shouts for you to summon with a few mouse clicks. Before the internet came along, the cliche that "everybody's a critic" may have been true, but for the first time we can hear them all at once, all the time, one massive and stern Greek chorus of disapproval.
But whereas the chorus in a Greek tragedy at least spoke in meter, with a certain poetic eloquence, the anonymity of the web has reduced us to our most savage and bitter. We are all cavemen, all id. Civil debate and discourse isn't the norm in any large and open community online. 4Chan bullies prowl the hallways of the web like the high school thugs every awkward teenager dreads running into.
As a creator, you have to balance receptivity to criticism with the conviction of your creative choices. It's not easy withstanding the constant, withering glare of a million critics, but just in taking those steps to cross over from the darkness of the peanut gallery to the bright lights of center stage you've set yourself apart.
As for the millions of judges out there, I urge you, the next time you go to murder someone's book with your poison pen, try to write a book yourself. The next time you leave a movie theater ready to dismiss what you watched for two hours, try to direct your own short movie. What the world needs is not more judges. As the old saying goes, everbody's a critic.