Bad Reviews

My topic of discussion today is a sensitive issue for writers: bad reviews.

The nature of creative expression is in itself quite slippery. We can’t really define what makes something good or bad. We can often describe characteristics of a good and bad things, but we fail to completely capture the “formula”, if yuo will. In fact, he line between good and bad is sometimes nearly impossible to discern. Often very good and very bad can be nearly interchangeable.

Not much comfort for van Gogh, I’m afraid. Good news for 50 Shades of Grey and Rebecca Black.

As I wrote in a previous post, we writers generally have to be made of sturdy stuff. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt to be lambasted with words, it’s more that — as with a bad song you keep hearing on the radio — frequent exposure creates a kind of familiarity. Eventually, grim and haggard, the writer starts to gain a kind of perverse enjoyment out of being hated and reviled. His thesaurus disgorges asperse, traduce, calumniate and more. He keeps coming back for more. It reinforces that excellent feeling of being “The Outsider” that augments the narrative process.

More importantly, the bad review often tells a far more interesting story than a good one. Don’t you hate those people who can never criticize anything because they’ve been trained by society to be so pitifully nice? Sometimes an appropriate cry of “fatso” is just the thing a child needs to motivate himself to start losing weight, rather than some dreadful encouragement from cake-wielding parents.

There is no inner beauty in being diabetic. Don’t tell your kid it’s OK. I might not be a parent, but as “The Outsider”, I sure do know better.

The point is, fire that missile. Take aim and annihilate. Dialogue, characterization, plot, anything and everything is a legitimate target. Don’t spare my feelings. Your sweet encouragement is making me diabetic. Give me some ugly truth. Give me some hateful subjective opinions. They could really help me see my work in a new light.

As much as I will not enjoy it, I want you to fire that missile. The only important thing I would like to specify is this: please do take aim.

Here’s an example: if you thought this post stank, a comment like “this post is shit” would not accomplish much. A comment like “this post was rambling and sanctimonious” would be a lot more valuable.

So, critics of the world, I address you: when you contemplate your scalding comment, I ask that you remember not to swing wildly at me. Hit me where it hurts. Our relationship might be a bit sick and co-dependent, but I would really like it to be meaningful.


Are you a people pleaser?

I had an idea that I couldn’t forget.

What if you were meant to be very special, but you found a way to suppress it. Maybe you were sensitive and you saw your greatness  as something that made other people uncomfortable and that made you afraid to express yourself.

You could have been king Leonidas, but instead, you decided to quietly do what was expected. You went to school, you studied, you progressed along a mediocre path, fuelled by approval. You lived a life that was prescribed by Life As We Know It, never realizing that there is so much more out there for you and that other people’s approval (especially from authority figures) is tragically overrated.

Look at King Leonidas

Others’ approval is overrated. This could be you.

Now I pose the big questions: Are you a people-pleaser? Are you living for yourself or for somebody else?

Nobody says that you should go so far as to do a Tucker Max, but there is a lesson you can learn from his success. Being yourself is a uniquely empowering experience.

I wanted to share this idea, so I wrote about a man called Martin Short. Martin is repressed in the way that I’ve described, but he thinks that he’s happy. There is a trigger event, however, that sets him off and provokes change.

I wonder if you’ll experience an event like that. Maybe reading my book could be such an event. It may even help me one day outsell Tucker Max.

Maybe allegory doesn’t float your boat. Either way, I urge you to justify your major life decisions. The ones that seem to make the most sense are the ones that you should examine the most closely.

An unexamined life is not likely to be great. Go out and discover some different ways in which you could live before you fall into that traditional career or default lifestyle pattern. Here are three tips:

1. Open yourself up to new experiences

Other people live differently. Travelling and observing a different way of life can teach you a lot about what is possible. Eating different cuisine, using different soap. Small things will show you worlds you didn’t know existed.

2. Observe yourself thinking and deliberately disrupt your patterns

Ask yourself why you feel a certain way. When you normally do something defensive (like curl up and eat ice cream), force yourself to go out and do something else. This might surprise you.

3. Read some weird books/blogs/articles and expose yourself to new ideas

Could this be self-promotion? I’d better not say anything more.