About a million years ago, I was an eager student of rough and violent men. One of my teachers felt the only proper way to learn nerve strikes was to experience them. Another worked us til we puked, then worked us even harder. Still another taught knife-fighting with live blades.
Those lessons were... memorable. I suffered at their hands. I never enjoyed it, but I did learn. And when I fought, and won, I was grateful.
This week has given me a fresh perspective: I've had the Tiny Dynamo reading my latest and reviewed the portfolios of a couple of aspiring artists.
The read hasn't been easy. Little D immediately pointed out a couple of major flaws. Major. Flaws. I didn't see them, because I'd spent so long, so close to the work. It was like being told that I had my fly open and spinach between my teeth. Of course, that's the beautiful thing about that First Read: the time you want to hear about the spinach and the zipper is BEFORE you leave the house!
The portfolio reviews weren't much fun, either. Two young artists, hardworking and talented. Type who've grown up being 'the best artist in school'. Two young faces, full of eager light and accustomed to praise.
Reminded me a lot of myself at their age.
One couldn't draw feet or hands. The other had this weird thing with shoulders, the arm seeming to sort of grow directly out of the neck. Both did everything in their power to avoid backgrounds.
The reviews went something like this:
How bad do you want this? These creative careers, they're not for everybody. It's a lot of hard work and heartbreak, with no certain reward.
You've got talent, plenty to have fun with this as a hobby. But if you're serious, if you want a career, you need work. You need to quit basking in your strengths and look hard at your weaknesses.
I don't know if my advice will do any good. One kid (the hands and feet kid) tried to argue with me: I got an earful of wounded pride. The other was sad but determined. I remember that feeling. Heck, I was in the middle of it with my current novel!
Bad reviews suck. One common trait among creative types is a certain... Luciferian pride. Our swollen egos crave praise. But what's good for the ego is not always best for the soul.
Steve's Full Throttle Guide to Slings and Arrows
1. Do. Not. Argue. Even if you win, you lose. Honesty is a rare quantity without attacking it. Besides, it's not a good look.
2. Consider the Source. Sometimes it's a matter of taste. Some readers hate the clipped sentences of James M Cain and Shirley Jackson. Others can't stand the endless run-on sentences of Faulkner or Cormac McArthy. I can't stand those slasher movies where all the victims do is run away. (FIGHT, for fuck's sake!!) You can't fault your critics for their taste, but you don't have to take their tastes to heart, either.
3. Consider Motive. There are people in this world who run around ankle-high trying to gnaw everyone else down to their level. Petty cruelty is their stock and trade. On the other hand, some of your harshest critics may also be your biggest fans, those who honestly want your very best.
The problem can be telling the two apart when your ego is wounded.
4. Admit the Truth. Even the meanest-spirited snake may still be telling the truth. Heck, a certain personality considers cruel truths to be their sharpest weapons. Whether or not it hurts (and it always hurts), being honest about your weak points will help you overcome them.
5. NEVER GIVE UP. No retreat, no surrender. Not if you want anything more than a hobby. Keep upping your game and keep slugging. It's the only way to get where you want to go.
Nobody enjoys a harsh critique, but you can learn. And when your skills grow strong and sharp, you'll be grateful.