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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wednesday's Words by Morgan Ashbury

I'm a writer of novels and essays. Being a writer isn't what I do so much as it's who I am. It defines me at the core. Because I am a writer down to the bone, how I look at things, the way I process information, the thoughts I entertain on a daily basis, my reactions, interactions, and interpretations are intrinsically different from someone who's not.

Words are important to me—my words, and the words of others. More important to me, I believe, than they are to the plumber or the carpenter, the welder or the weaver.

Words are important to most of you reading this, too. I think the majority of the people who peruse my essay week after week are writers (and if you don't think that puts a certain pressure on yours truly to excel, guess again). So let's take a minute and talk about something that touches most of us who are lovers of words in a uniquely personal way: reviews.

One of my fellow authors has recently asked me: Do people have nothing better to do than to poop on other people's work? The occasion for this question was a review she received. This review was written, not by a reviewer, but by a reader, and posted on Amazon.

It wasn't a kind review. Having read the work in question, I can tell you that in my opinion, the review was way off base. Selling very well, this particular book received 4 stars from RT Book Review magazine.

Words can enrich, empower, and inspire. But they can also cut deeply and wound terribly. And nowhere is this truth more evident to me than in the reviews we writers receive on our work.

You've all been told this old chestnut: `Don't take it personally'. Am I the only one who realizes that this phrase was created as a disingenuous cop out, a deliberate oxy-moron? Don't take it personally, indeed.

In the beginning is the blank piece of paper – or a blank word document. Writers take this vast emptiness and fill it with their thoughts and dreams, their ideas and emotions, their hearts and their souls. They pour all that they are into their work, sparing no personal insight or trauma or humiliation. They do so bravely, and without any guarantees of safety. What they do is the equivalent of standing naked on a stage, with the spotlight shining down revealing every extra fold of fat and ugly scar. There is nothing more personal than the writer's act of writing, and anyone who urges a writer to `not take personally' a review or critique has lost touch with reality.

Yes, I know there are works out there that aren't very good. I'm not advocating giving poor writing high marks. That would diminish us all. But are cruel, cutting words really necessary? I don't think they are.

I once judged a short story contest given by well known author Kelley Armstrong. Kelley wanted to give to these aspiring authors more than a chance to win a prize; she wanted them to get something of value in return for their entry. She wanted them to receive a fair and balanced critique. The same holds true on her website, in the Online Writers Group. Yes, point out areas that need improvement, but do so as kindly as possible. Give constructive criticism, don't destroy dreams.

Any reviewer who thinks, "Well, I'm going to tell it like it is and I don't care if I hurt the author's feelings or not", has an agenda that has nothing to do with giving a fair and honest evaluation.

So to answer my colleague's question, yes! Yes, some people have nothing better to do than to poop on other people's work. Just like some people have nothing better to do with their time than to complain about everything under the sun. After all, the Sesame Street character Oscar The Grouch resonates with us for a reason. We all know at least one person exactly like him.

So the next time someone denigrates your work with words of cruelty and abuse, go ahead and take it personally. Take a moment to focus on your hurt feelings, if that's what you need to do.

Then rub your hands together in glee and consign your abuser to a fate worse than death in your next novel. Don't get mad, get even. Trust me, you'll feel better for it.



Thanks, Morgan. :) I adored this week's Wedneday's Words. You know why. :)

If you'd like to read Morgan's Wednesday Words each and every week...Here is the sign up link for the Siren Books Loop at Yahoo.




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