Friday, April 13, 2007

Writers as Critics

Writers often find themselves walking a fine line. I love to analyze books, to figure out what works and what doesn’t and why. That makes sense, since I love to analyze and I love books. But there are times it can get me into trouble.

At the urging of those who think I ought to do more self-promotion, I’ve joined several mystery lists. The idea, I suppose, is that when I post comments, readers repeatedly see my signature line and are subliminally prompted to buy my books next time they see them. Nice in theory, except that I seldom comment. Why? Because these lists are all about commenting on books and unless I’m going to rave about a book, I don’t think I should post.

As a nonwriting reader, I could say (gracefully) that I think a book sucks and I’d be entitled to my opinion. But as a writer, I can’t. Why? I guess because I come off sounding condescending or vicious or, in the case of a successful author, just plain jealous. I also worry about alienating X author’s fans—not a good idea.

It’s hard on me to keep my mouth shut sometimes. That’s one of the things I love about my Monday night writers group—we’re all good friends and we speak freely about books in a way I’d never dare in any other venue. When I talk about books here, I am very careful not to name them. I’ll only make an exception if an author really, really pisses me off, such as by blatantly plagiarizing material (whether he wins in court or not) or by pandering to bigotry and ignorance and hatred. With me, that’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

The downside of being a writer is that unless I’m really caught up in a book, I can’t turn off my critical faculty. I’m always trying to improve my own writing, and one of the best ways to do that is to look at what works and what doesn’t in other people’s books. Formulating my ideas into these blog entries helps me to organize and explore my thinking on these issues, and I find I get very insightful feedback from those who read my blog. They come at things from a completely different angle or open up new vistas entirely.

Yet even though I generally avoid naming names, I’m walking a fine line and I suppose it’s inevitable I’ll sometimes teeter over the edge. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t mean to offend anyone, or insult anyone. I’m just having fun exploring ideas and learning about writing, because I know I have so much to learn.

7 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm the same way. I very seldom mention names of "living" writers when I'm criticizing their work here. I do mention the names when I like their work. It's partly that I don't want to alienate people, and partly becaus I don't want to hurt the writer's feelings, even though most could probably care less whether "I" criticize them or not.

Steve Malley said...

You and Charles are my personal models of internet diplomacy. too many people in the digital medium forget that the words publish instantly, then stay there forever.

It can be like having every stupid thing you ever said preserved in print...

Yikes.

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