Friday, August 07, 2009

Criticism

I know you're not supposed to talk about bad reviews. But I think sometimes it's almost dishonest not to.

Ego is like an open wound. Easily soothed, easily stung.

I spend so much time writing, editing, rewriting, considering ideas, and then also trying to self-criticise, self-edit, judge what I’ve done. I get lost in uncertainty. And then I go trawling for reassurance, validation – google-hunting. And sometimes I find a lovely review, and sometimes a really fucking bad one.

Erotica attracts the worst from our writing brethren and a few examples slipped under the radar of Alison Tyler's normally excellent editing. The worst was 'Madrid', by Nikki Magennis - an interminable erotic contrivance that was both pretentious and amateurish to boot
.

I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. Last night I read that and my heart pounded and it felt a bit like I’d just been attacked. Of course, the reviewer is attacking the work. But it’s hard for a writer/artist/whatever to separate the work from themself, from their life, because in some senses there is no line of separation. So I’m dropping the pretence of professional detachment for a moment, and just saying, yes, no matter who it’s from or why they’ve written it, harsh criticism does hurt.

I wouldn’t want it any other way. Of course, a certain amount of distance is necessary. But if one is not involved on more than a detached, professional level, the work gets a bit dry. I wrote this story the other day, for example. There’s a lot I like about it. But it’s almost more of a technical exercise than a story with a beating heart.

He calls the story pretentious. What does that really mean? I think it means dishonest. Grandiose, perhaps? Takes itself too seriously? As in – will obsessively dissect a three-and-a-half-line review in order to prove or disprove its great worth? Fair enough.

Maybe I’m just trying too hard here to disprove what the guy said. And maybe it does just fucking hurt, whichever way you cut it.

Then again, hurt is not always a bad thing. Usually when I feel like crying it means I’m approaching something worthwhile. Because what matters most of all is not good reviews. It’s making work that excites me. That is unutterably selfish, isn’t it?

Maybe work isn’t worthwhile if it doesn’t translate. If it doesn’t reach further. But how does one find a place between selfish and detached? Between honesty and artifice? Is it possible to be honest without being self absorbed? Could I learn a new way to write?

I don’t know.

Maybe today I’ll try.



The point of this post is not to plead for sympathy, although yes, my instant reaction was that kind of "say it isn't so" denial. The point of the post is to illustrate, and record, how writing works for me. It breaks things down, it allows them to fall apart. And then there’s a fabulous still point, and it opens up the possibility of somewhere new. It’s all that matters, really.

14 comments:

Danielle said...

what can i say what i didnt already said??? not much..aside that i dont give good "critics" if i dont feel like..i rather say nothing then beeing just kind..do you know what i mean??? and i actually cant count anymore how often i said that i really love your "voice"/stories...a while ago i during a conversation with another wonderful writer i said that you, gina marie and alana are so most talented and strongest writer i discovered recently..and i totally meant it..i didnt read madrid until two hours ago and i wasnt surprised that i liked it..its totally you..the rock n roll glam its told it...

about the critic: all i can say he should put his critic where the sun dont shines..and i dont mean london..

aside that i have to post again what i already postet twice since it becomes my answer on every mean review, critic or mean rejection...would you please sing along?

i allready postet this coment a few days ago on the very same subject and somehow it fits inhere too:

thats not only a mean but also non-sense review..really silly..:-/

it take way too much of our energy to coment about that he is dull and stupid..he reviewer i mean..so..lets sing again(like we did for sommer a few weeks ago)..all together:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpZm1TstpjQ

Danielle said...

the most..not so most..silly me..

Nikki Magennis said...

Hey Danielle,

thanks again! I'm really very honoured that you like my work.

I think the more I write the less I'm inclined to criticise other people's work. I do appreciate good criticism, and even nasty criticism can be valuable, I think, if it improves the work.

Meanwhile - I see your Lily Allen and I raise you - Joan Jett!

; )

Danielle said...

about three years ago i wrote a monthly column which was very popular and which was full of mean and sarcastic stuff..and as well i wrote critics for an event magazine...i know how critics work..and i know that no one wants to read a good critic..the reader wants blood and broken bones ..but as soon as i started to publish "real" stuff like stories and essays again..i quited writing critics..i dont critic because i actually dont wanna be criticised...because i really have a hard tiem from making a difference between me and my work..for me its like the i am criticised and not my work

joan jett..awsome woman!

Jeremy Edwards said...

You know, I think that critic got mixed up and didn't intend to be referencing your story (not that I'm advocating scathing criticism of anybody's stories or saying that any story in this book is anything other than praiseworthy). I say this because it sounds like (s)he is referring to a longer story. So, in all seriousness, my guess is that the critic got some notes mixed up, and the harsh words flung at you were meant for someone else—perhaps me! : )

Danielle said...

jeremy edwards..you are such an gentleman..:-)

Nikki Magennis said...

Oh, Jeremy, you're very kind but there's no need to throw your coat over a puddle! Unless ... you want we share the badness? I'll take 'amateurish' and 'pretentious', cause I think I can handle those. Plus I was getting to some interesting places with them.

You can have the 'interminable' bit.
Any use?

; )

Shanna Germain said...

Blech. I love that story -- which I suppose means that I suck as an editor and reader by proxy.

Ah well. Hell's more fun anyway.

Which is funny, because I thought the whole review was a bit... ahem... pretentious in itself. But then if I started critting the crits, then it would be like those never-ending things like thank yous, where someone sends you a gift and you send them a 'thank you for the gift' card and they send you a 'thank you for the thank you card' card and so on.

Isn't it odd how one scathe can do so much worse that a hundred loves? Or at least that's the way it is for me...

-adding to the 'loves' pile-
s.

Erobintica said...

Hey Nikki, I loved this story - I love your short and poetic little moments. Probably this *mumblemumble* just couldn't appreciate it.

But this is wonderful that you mentioned it and talked openly about it hurting. Our writing is part of us. Especially something we like ourselves - because that means we captured part of ourselves in it.

And not that it matters that much, but the nasty review wasn't all that well writing, imho. ;-)

(((hugs)))

Erobintica said...

that should be written - ha! - bet that critic would love that - what can I say, I was up till 3am helping hubby fix plumbing (literally, so it wasn't fun).

Nikki Magennis said...

Shanna, you know, the 'loves' pile more than makes up for the 'loathes' pile. Tanks.

I will always believe a nasty review and take a good one with a pinch of salt. It's just perverse, yes. But maybe it's a good thing, not to ever get complacent.

Robin - thanks so much, hon. Yes, it is part of us. I was trying to explain to boyf how being a 'professional' writer is an odd thing - you're selling, in effect, your emotions and ideas and feelings - yet you have to somehow try to pretend that you don't have any when it comes to your work.

Lots of writers maintain a graceful and eloquent silence, and I admire that. But I never was that graceful ...

(And sorry to hear about the plumbing. I have horrible memories of plumbing emergencies. Water is terrifying!)

neve black said...

I'm sorry I didn't come over here and leave a comment after reading AT's post about this several days ago. I certainly don't want to create a dust storm again either...however, it's important that I mention to you - Madrid is one of my favorite poems, Nikki. I adore Frenzy too. I'm not just saying that either. I really, really love the collection and your poignant poems - especially Madrid are so beautiful, just like you. :-)

Nikki Magennis said...

Neve, you're so kind! Thank you. : )

Alana said...

Nx, brave post. Thank you.

Peace,
A