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The Double Edge of Writing

Rob Parnell

It's a funny thing that we us writers want some degree of success - at the very least what we call 'validation' for the work we put into creating books, articles, movies or other media based projects.

But ironically just by producing anything you want 'seen' you run the risk of receiving criticism - something that us poor shy creative types sometimes find hardest to stomach!

I mean, if you're afraid of criticism - which, let's face it, most egos are, why on earth would you do something - or aspire to do something - that was most likely going to put you directly in the firing line?

It's no wonder many writers never get past the starting gate - too afraid to finally finish something lest they be judged!

Let's face it, most writers just want to be told that they're great.

No other criticism is necessary!

But of course rejection, criticism and general bagging comes with the territory. 

Indeed, the more successful you become, the more scathing the attacks on you are likely to be.

When you reach the public eye, you stop being an ordinary person with a creative streak, you become a commodity - an object that is either worthy of praise or fair game for scorn and/or derision.

Anyone famous will tell you that.

Success brings naysayers to your door as well as hordes of fans.

This is all right and proper.

You wouldn't expect it to be any other way.

But it can be hard at first.

Many writers ask me about using pseudonyms - thinking that criticism based on a false name will not hurt as much - or feel so personal. But actually the reality is different. It still hurts.

Because the nom de plume is still a cherished invention - of yours, and therefore an attack on the name is still an attack on you, albeit anonymously.

I've always stuck with my own name. 

Mainly because keeping track of different personas seems too hard to me. 

It's hard enough just being yourself without inventing all kinds of other problems like having to remember which persona said and did what and when - and having to explain to bank managers and publishers why you want checks made out to different names etc. 

Why would you want the extra headaches?

Besides, you tend to lose your identity as you become successful anyway.

You begin to realize that people aren't criticizing you personally any more, they're criticizing what they believe you represent - which, as Jean Cocteau once said, is usually the thing you're least proud of!

Success is about this ability to get your name out there - and then let other people own it - and let them do what they like with it.

There's really not much you can do to stop that happening.

I read once that ex-Genesis drummer and all round superstar Phil Collins used to scour the newspapers looking for criticisms of himself and his work. He would then write the journalists long letters correcting their mistakes, their misapprehensions, even their opinions. To what end I'm not sure.

Perhaps he wanted a knighthood - and didn't want his name sullied at any point in his career.

The fact is you can't change what people say about you. They'll say it in private over dinner party tables if they don't say it to your face.

And often people say things in print just to get notoriety.

It's easy to criticize the famous - especially famous writers, actors and directors. We live in a critical culture - where your opinion seems more valid somehow if it's negative!

Plus, perhaps it makes us feel superior - or a little less pathetic - when we diminish the efforts of more successful people.

An allegedly anonymous source once said, "Those who can do, those who can't, criticize."

I prefer George Bernard Shaw's version: "Those who can do, those who can't, teach." - which is much funnier and probably more pertinent to my own situation!

Anyway, it's important to remember that criticism often reveals much more about the critic than it does about the writer.

Especially when the critic has an agenda and/or no real experience of coming close to what you, the writer, has achieved - whether your work is good, bad or middling.

But the really important point to bear in mind is that criticism can only make you and your work stronger.

These days there are whole industries set up to discourage writers, artists and actors - built on the premise that in order to break through and become successful you need to be criticized, chastised and generally destroyed for the impertinence of even trying!

It's a wonder anyone bothers!

But the cream will always rise to the top as they say - that's the theory anyway.

Often we feel compelled to create something for the sheer joy of it. Or we want to say something important. Or we want to create something of value that will last.

Whatever your reason, some degree of criticism is inevitable,

From your friends, your family, your partner, all the way up to the media.

But criticism is good. It makes you better, stronger, more effective.

Actually you'd be lost without it.

How could you grow and improve if everyone told you that you were absolutely marvelous at everything?

Orson Welles said it may help you at first, getting started, but it doesn't prepare you for the real world, where everyone but your mother is generally hostile toward creativity and the artist.

I guess what I'm trying to say this week - in amongst the rambling - is that you shouldn't fear criticism - nor use the fear of it as an excuse not to proceed with any creative project.

It's essential that you let your honesty and integrity shine throughout your work. People like that.

What they don't like is when you're overly self conscious or somehow embarrassed about your work, or overly keen to please everyone.

Don't be afraid to be yourself - even if that means opening up your heart to its most vulnerable side.

Fact is, finished creative projects toughen us up.

Big time.

Because the act of finishing a cherished project teaches us much more about ourselves - and life - and people - than any critic will ever know about themselves.

True, the cream may take a while to rise, but the dregs will always fall to the bottom.

Keep Writing!

 rob at home

Rob Parnell
The Easy Way to Write

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