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?