Reviews: Put on Earth to Torture Artists?

A few years ago the author Frederick Busch came to town and, through Hamline, I was lucky enough to publicly interview him about his work. While the interview went well, I thought the best part of the whole was just having dinner with him beforehand. He told me, a novice at the time hoping to be published someday, to not believe the good reviews because then I'd have to believe the bad.

But that's hard, isn't it? You work on a book for years, mostly in the dark, and then you're not supposed to care what "professional critics" think about it? When the first reviews of The Suicide Collectors came out, I read each review greedily. And the reviews were actually pretty great, but it was always that one bad review I'd find myself obsessing over, knowing I shouldn't take it personally but still doing so anyway.

Now it's been a year since my first reviews and my second novel is approaching, hopefully to be reviewed many times over itself. I've developed a bit of a glaze when I read reviews now, and the effect seems to be that good reviews are dampened so they don't really affect me much at all, and the bad (or middling) reviews are half-dampened. So I'm half-tortured, basically. Which is strange. You can tell yourself the critic just didn't get what you were going for (and they seem to have trouble with my endings) but you find yourself doubting yourself anyway, because of course you're not the most subjective viewer of your work.

Which can be totally poisonous and heinous. The writer plays God in each novel, and if God doesn't know what the hell is going on, no one does. So Busch was right: feel free to read your own reviews at your own risk. You don't know if that reviewer is a frustrated novelist themselves, or had a bad day when they wrote that review, of if they're dead on. And it doesn't matter. The best you can do is write the story as it seems to fall to you, creating a world and story (including the ending) that seems so inevitable nothing else even registers as a possibility.


mikey said...

M. Night Shyamalan threw a movie critic character into his film 'Lady in the Water'. The guy was a complete and utter d-bag, and had most of those characteristics, as he was a hack in his own right - always criticizing, never creating. It was somewhat heavy handed by Shymalan, but still - every artist has their critics. Thrown one into your next book, that will show them.

David Oppegaard said...

yeah, and who was it, Chriteon that put his ex-wife in a book? Or was he just going through a divorce or something?

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