Okay I confess, this was just a catchy title to get you to read what follows. Though you will find both Mark Twain and Jane Austen a few paragraphs on down. Now to the real reason I brought you here.
One of the things that often mystify my friends about writers is that we not only accept criticism, we encourage it. In fact, those of us who desire to be the best we can be at our craft have been known to pay for it. You heard me right; we take those words we have labored over until finally giving birth to a full-fledged story and rather than coddle and coo over them, we usher them out into the cruel world to be poked and prodded until they scream for mercy.
Journalist, Gene Fowler once said: “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” So then why would anyone in their right mind take such a labor of love and invite others to look for its flaws?
The good writers invite critiques because they want to write better. Even when I disagree with someone’s criticism I still become a better writer. I don’t even have to use any of their recommended changes to be a better writer. Just examining my work from another person’s viewpoint drives me to be writer better. I’m sure there’s a life lesson hidden in there for all of us – writer or not.
With all that said, writing like everything else in life is fraught with uninvited and misguided critics. Not the kind who offer constructive and knowledgeable advice but those who simply make a sport of finding fault. Then there are those who have received accolades for their successes but apparently didn’t get the memo about passing on such recognition to others.
I must confess I do find a certain element of solace that it isn’t just unknowns like me who suffer at the hand of such critics. Consider some to the following critiques handed out literary giants of the past.
Mark Twain on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
“Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin bone.”
Anthony Trollope on Charles Dickens
“Of Dicken’s style it is impossible to speak in praise. It is jerky, ungrammatical and created by himself in defiance of rules … No young novelist should ever dare to imitate the style of Dickens.”
London Critic on Walt Whitman
“Walt Whitman is as unacquainted with art as a hog with mathematics.”
The Examiner on Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.”
The New Yorker on Chesapeake by James Michener
“I have two recommendations. First, don’t buy this book. Second, if you buy this book, don’t drop it on your foot.”