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Author Topic: Pissed Off By a Critic
Robert Nowall
Member # 2764

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A couple weeks ago, I got an e-mail at my website, the gist of which was "give it up, you've got no talent." Embroidered it a bit with a comment about my grammar and the corniness of what I've written. Claimed not to read beyond the first couple of paragraphs---didn't identify the work read by name, though I think I recognize the bad-grammar sentence quoted. (Made an error of his own, too.)

I didn't recognize the name the guy gave---it didn't seem to be anybody here, far as I could tell, and a Google Search turned up one reference that might or might not be the guy. So...total stranger.

I know the theory is that we're supposed to be polite when someone offers comments on one's work, that comments of this nature are intended to help. But I thought the whole tone of the e-mail was nasty to the extreme, and "help" wasn't what was on this guy's mind.

I sent a short, caustic reply, a well-known quote. I haven't heard back, or I might have said a few more things.

Now, whatever one might think of the relative worth of my work, or my grammar or plots...I believe I have an explanation as to why this kind of comment should turn up right now.

Shortly before that, I posted at another side some comments that, shall we say, conflicted with certain widely-held beliefs in certain political circles. I couldn't help but notice that this comment on the lack-of-worth in my work appeared right after that. I think it was the source of all this.

But if it isn't...if it's any of you guys...anybody want to own up to it?

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Not I, Ishmael. I don't publish disparaging commentary, period.

Let's be clear: disparaging commentators are not critics. They are playground bullies. Criticism is an art form.

I note you use the term "beliefs." I learned a thing or two about beliefs recently while studying Folklore scholarship. One, beliefs are like opinions and excretory orifices; they are impossible to argue against. Two, any given belief group's closely held beliefs are taken as factual, logical, and rational by the esoteric group, but may be construed as superstition or partisan bias by an exoteric group. This is a cognitive bias regardless. Politics is particularly prone to cognitive bias.

In case anyone believes folklore is antiquated peasant folk traditions, I can safely assert folklore is alive and well and thriving and contemporary in this Postmodern era, in politics no less, as illustrated by the recent election cycle. I believe I'll go fishing.

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Robert -- the reason to react politely to unreasonable criticism is that an angry reaction makes a misguided but sincere critic even less reasonable, and gives a troll the satisfaction he desires.

But it's hard not to react to someone trashing something you put a lot of work into. It happens to everyone. I've done it myself, and I know better.

I don't think you can draw any conclusions about the politics of the troll, because the essence of trolling is that it is insincere, and calculated to get a rise out of you. Therefore a troll reveals only what the troller thinks might bug you, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist that accusing an author of writing sloppily is offensive. Personally, I have no problems with being "corny"; sometimes that's what I want. Writing a good "corny" story is a worthy challenge for any writer. Too often "corny" is used by lazy critics as a substitute for hard thought. Good criticism, like good writing, isn't general and vague; it's meaty, chock-full of surprising and thought-provoking specifics.

You have no idea whether the troll is even politically motivated, because trolls aren't interested in advancing any ideas; they're into feeling powerful by provoking a reaction. I my experience there are pathetic people like that in every political camp. In some cases they're true believers who don't know how to think for themselves, in other cases they're cunning parasites in it for cheap ego boost, in many cases a mix of the two. In any event their "opinions" aren't reliable because they don't hesitate to act like hypocrites of it gives them a fix of that sweet, sweet self-righteous anger.

Some years ago you may remember a controversy over Carrie Prejean, a runner-up in the Miss USA pageant who gave a somewhat awkward but sincere answer to a question about same sex marriage. I'm a regular participant at the liberal blog DailyKos, and I got a shellacking when I pointed out the sexism and hypocrisy of the left's insanely overheated reaction. We did not scruple against criticize her appearance, something we regularly excoriate right wingers for doing to women they disagree with. What was clear to me is that this woman was an easy target for the trolls in my political camp. She was a participant in an event which most people on the left find distasteful, and she obviously hadn't given much thought to her position on the subject, it was just her gut reaction. In other words she was *the enemy* and she was *vulnerable*, and the trolls came out of the woodwork -- just like the right-wing trolls came out of the woodwork with Sandra Fluke. It's clear from the memes floating around about Fluke is that people didn't bother to read her testimony before weighing in on it.

Cowardly, self-righteous hypocrites (i.e. trolls) aren't content to disagree with a position, they have to pick someone who seems vulnerable to them and destroy that person, because they're out for easy, safe egoboo. They won't ever give a perceived enemy his or her due, because they know in their craven hearts that a level playing field is a place they want to avoid. That's why if the troll was one of us here at Hatrack (which I sincerely doubt), you can count on one thing: he won't own up.

Self-righteousness is an unattractive quality in any person, but it's a particularly damaging vice in writers and critics, who ought to value their objectivity. You don't have to give up your own opinions of course, but you have to cultivate the ability to see both sides of an argument to present them credibly, and to discuss a piece without your critique becoming more about your opinions than the piece itself.

As writers this critical objectivity allows us to be our own toughest critics, so in theory we should be able to shrug off the occasional poison pen critique as being merely "unhelpful". But as an engineer friend of mine likes to say, in theory theory and practice are the same, but in practice they're different. The knee-jerk reaction of dashing off a rebuttal is irresistible, even though we know deep down we're just feeding the trolls. I suggest the best course is to *redirect* the impulse. Send the poison pen critique to somebody you trust and get his opinion. Anybody who gets one of these feel free to dash it off to me and I'll put it at the head of my critique queue. I know the difference between tough but fair criticism and a critic pursuing his own agenda.

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Of all the people on earth, I think members of a writer's group would be the last ones to post a snide remark about someone else's writing. We are all well aware of how much they hurt.

It wouldn't be surprising if you are right, and it was payback. You insulted them, they insulted you. Such is life.

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Chalk it up to ignorance on the part of the offender. It's best to ignore these things.
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Originally posted by genevive42:
Chalk it up to ignorance on the part of the offender. It's best to ignore these things.

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Robert Nowall
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Well, I've had enough positive comment about my stuff to take statements like those for what they're worth---but I still think the timing of it all suggests it was "set off" by what I posted. (The site in question isn't overtly political---in fact it's a well-known SF writer's site---but political matters are dealt with in the blog posts (and replies.)) I suppose I invite that sort of thing by inviting replies---and will just have to deal with it.

Sooner or later I'll get back to work on something---and might keep some notions about grammar in mind---but, right now, I'm pretty much writing what I want the way I want. It's all I've got.

(Also...the "saying more" would likely have been political in nature, so I won't discuss that here. After that, I would've let it go...)

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Grumpy old guy
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Robert, I have been critiquing other peoples writing for a couple of years now, and having my own critiqued. In that time I have come across some surprisingly good 'amateur' writers, and some that were, I shall be polite and call them naive. For those whose knowledge of the basics of storytelling seems less that 'grand', I see that as an opportunity to impart some of my own 'hard-learned' lessons from people who've critiqued my own work.

I would never *intentionally* set out to belittle or denigrate anyone who has tried their best. But, having said that, I have occasionally been *enthusiastic* in putting forward my opinions. And, when that's been pointed out, I've been thoroughly embarrassed and have appologised.

This person who offered you his/her opinion is nothing more than a frustrated, small-minded idiot whose only way to achieve any satisfaction in life it to belittle others. He/she is simply jealous of anyone who has a mind, and a will to try.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Another reason for not responding to such an email is that if it is a troll, and your responding is what the troll wanted, you will get more such emails, not only from the original troll, but possibly from all the troll's troll friends.

Just delete them.

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Grumpy old guy
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A troll with friends? Who'd have thought.


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