Author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat Pray Love fame) recently posted on Facebook a reflection on how she deals with criticism. To sum it up: she doesn’t.
Her words of wisdom reappeared on my feed, shared by writer friends who seemed to agree. As Gilbert puts it, reading criticism of her work is “doing violence to herself.” She recognizes criticism’s established place in the creative landscape, but says it is not a critic’s job to make an author emotionally honest—that is left up to the author herself.
Gilbert also notes that she reads positive reviews with relish (“because it’s really nice to hear people say nice things about your work!”) and that she has a core group of trusted individuals that she leans on for feedback—on a certain timeline (“after the book is published THERE IS NOTHING MORE THAT I CAN DO ABOUT IT”).
At first, I thought I agreed. Writing for the web, I know what it’s like to be the receiving end of bizarrely personal, speculative, misogynist, ill-informed, and all-around angry comments. I identify with being too thin-skinned for this public world, where it’s easy to nurse the wounds while waving away the encouragements. Gilbert quotes the Internet adage to “not feed the trolls,” who she characterizes as porn-watching, beer-swilling, butt-scratchers. And listening to them can ruin your work.
At first blush, this seems like common sense for self-care and preserving personal dignity. But then I consider what she and other sensitive writers might be missing out on. A critique in The New York Times isn’t the same as an anonymous commenter on a blog post, but every person who puts their creative and intellectual ...1
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