I’d been waiting for the bomb to drop. Not knowing who would be the first to criticize or question the Camden Writers’ latest anthology, What I Wish I Could Tell You, I felt on alert and anxious whenever anyone brought it up.
I just didn’t expect the criticism to come from within my own circle.
“I don’t understand how some of these pieces got in the book. They’re not even interesting.”
Okay, thanks. I’ll take your opinion under consideration.
“Who is Annie Dillard? I’ve never heard of her, and I don’t think you should make references to people most readers have never heard of.”
I can’t believe you said that…and I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Annie Dillard either.
“What’s up with all those recipes? You can get them online, you know.” (This was said with a wink and a snicker.)
We were just trying to please the readers of Serving Up Memory who clamored for more. Silly us.
“Song lyrics? I think you tried to include too much.”
Well, it’s an anthology, and we thought these pieces would add something special, especially since they’re about South Carolina.
At some point, I recalled these words: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” I’m attributing this quote to Elbert Hubbard, but I’ve seen Aristotle and others named as possible authors. I’ll leave it to my critics to track down the original source.
What’s ironic is that there is no way to avoid criticism and censure. There will always be those who call you out for being lazy, unmotivated, untalented, ignorant, liberal, conservative, or fearful. Not even Jane Austen escaped some severe judgment calls. Mark Twain seemed to loathe her work and once described a good library as one containing none of her books. “Just that one omission would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it,” Twain wrote in Following the Equator.
I have a friend who’s been hard at work researching and writing a book that I believe would be of value to many people. I’ve pretty much stopped asking her about her progress, however…not because I don’t care but rather because I don’t want to further pressure her. “I’m afraid of what people will say,” she’s told me on more than one occasion.
I couldn’t lie. I told her the truth, that people would most certainly have their say about whatever she wrote. “You’ve just got to believe in it enough to publish your book anyway.” For good measure, I added, “You’ll regret it if you don’t.”
End of rant. Those of us who contributed to What I Wish I Could Tell You are glad we did. We had stories to tell, poems and recipes to share, and thoughts to express. Rather than wish and hope that someday we’d do something about the memories and ideas, we decided to follow Susan Jeffers advice from Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.
Jeffers’ #5 Fear Truth: “Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness.” While scary, it’s much more satisfying and fulfilling to say yes to challenges, opportunities, and that little voice that nudges you to try something new.
Yes, the criticism is bruising. But yes, the Camden Writers would do it again. We’d rather be judged for what we did rather than for something we procrastinated about. What about you?
Writing makes you vulnerable in so many ways. I hope all the writers here keep doing it, and I need to get my hands on a copy…
Thanks for reading and commenting, Joey. Our plan is to keep putting fingers to keyboard despite our critics. 🙂
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Literature, music and fine wine are all a matter of an individual’s taste…(so let’s here it for our recipes – heehee)
Whenever I’m up against a strong opponent to something I’ve done like the person you encountered I often find that my greatest ‘smile moment’ comes when I realize “hey, I **did** something, I’m creating and putting it out there, how about that person?”
Laura, exactly! One of my nieces participated in an 8K running event a few years ago and didn’t perform as well as she wanted to. Instead of beating herself up, she reminded herself that she’d done a lot more than her acquaintances and potential critics had done–people who were doing their laps while sitting on the couch.
Thanks, Laura. It’s been so long since I wrote that post that I can’t recall exactly what examples I used, but one of my favorites is something one of my nieces said.She and one of my daughters ran a race at the Outer Banks about five years ago, and although my daughter was fine with her time, my niece was not. She just knew people were going to make snide remarks about her pace and was prepared for them. “I’ll just smile and say I was a lot faster than my friends who ran laps on their couch were.”
We all have stories to tell, but not all of us have the ability to put our stories Into words on paper. I’m sure some people would be bored to death listening to some of my stories and some would be enthralled. Same way with books….not all of us like the same thing. I’m currently half-way through my copy of “What I wish I Could Tell You,” and to make each story more interesting to me, I find the picture and the summary of the author that is near the end of the book. I appreciate all the hard work that goes into these books and critiques are crucial to future editions. But we should all remember that constructive criticism goes much farther than personal criticism.
Thank you for taking time to respond to this, Joan Ella. And just so you know, I’m 110 percent positive that your stories would not be boring. Idea: talk to your mother and get all the information from her that you can about her life. I regret not asking my parents more questions. Now it’s too late. 😦