Friday, March 21, 2014

An open letter to my critics

Dear Critic,

All of my life you have kept me in chains.  Even before I knew what to call you, you kept me silent.  On the sidelines.

I listened to you.  I believed you.

I labeled you truth and anything else a lie.  I don't understand why.  But I did.  And still sometimes do.

You said I was not good enough.  Never would be.  You said there was no use in trying.  That failure was guaranteed.  I agreed.

You said I was stupid.  I was awkward and boring.  I was ugly and fat and unfixable.  Sub-par.

You said my ideas were dumb.  My dreams were invalid.  My words were best unwritten.

I thought you were right.  And so I didn't write them.  When I did pick up the pen, it was with a shaky, unsure hand.

You have judged me harshly without even knowing me.  You claim to understand, but you have no idea.  You don't care about me, truly, even when you say you do.  You're much more insecure than I am and you won't even admit it.  You think the only way to build yourself up is to tear me down.  And that's sad.  I'm not going to play along.

I have tried to make you happy.  Sacrificing my own joy in trying.  With no reward.  (Why am I surprised?)  It must be impossible to please you.

I am learning that you cannot be trusted.  And I am timid and I am still scared of you, but I do not value your opinion of me like I used to.

I have let you hold me back, but now I am breaking free.  You will not defeat me.  If I fail, it will not be because of you or your accusations or your predictions.  And when I am wrong, that still does not mean that you are right.

Even if I sometimes stumble, even if my words fall flat, even if a dream is unrealized, you still are mistaken about me.

Despite what you say, there is not fault in boldness, in authenticity, in courage, in kindness -- even hard kindness, in persistence and perseverance and patience.

Others know better than you about me.  You do not, but others accept me for who I am.  I am loved.  And I am turning my ear to the voice of love.  That is truth.  I am clinging now to love and truth and justice and security and validity.

And as we part, I hope you seek a better way.


I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.
-Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Criticism reframe

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs.
-John Osborne

I may be the last person in America to know about Divergent.  I mean, I've seen random posts from friends about the book series and Veronica Roth.  But I didn't really know what they were about and didn't take the time to investigate.  I've been a bit pre-occupied these last few months.

I was watching live television Tuesday night and couldn't fast-forward through a movie preview about a girl trying to break free from a society of factions.  I was intrigued.  The movie: Divergent.  The pieces came together.  That's what people have been talking about.

I decided to check out the book series on Amazon.  I wasn't sure if I would like it or not.  Though not a hard and fast rule, I usually don't L-O-V-E love other-worldly-ish science-fiction-y books (which this looked to be).

I decided to scroll through some reader reviews and came across this one:

...The real reason I give this book one star is because the book, as a whole, was awful. I'm sorry, but this is one of the most shoddily written books I've ever read in my entire life. And I say this as someone who absolutely adored the first two books in this series. I say this as someone who read Fifty Shades of Grey ... and Allegiant has officially taken that book's place as the worst book I've ever read. And I debated somewhat on that, but I decided that Allegiant wins because, while Fifty Shades was an affront to literature indeed, I don't actually wish I could go back in time and unread it. I wish to the heavens that I had never read Allegiant. ...

I don't know much about these books, their writer or this reader.  But words like that paralyze me.

They make me think: If a best-selling, publisher-contracted author whose words have been catapulted to the big screen gets reviews like that, then what would people say about the words I write if they read them?

We've been talking about obstacles in the (in)courage writers' group I'm blessed to be a part of and one of my biggest is fear of criticism.  Before I click publish, I begin to imagine how my words might be criticized.  I have more than two dozen un-published drafts in my blog queue.  Many of them stalled out of fear at how they might be received.  For style or for content.

This fear is why I stay silent more than I speak up.  Imagine my struggle when I learned that silence is also criticized!  What can a girl do to banish the critics?!?!

Well, while I do wish we lived in a world where people are nicer to one another.  And I do think we have become an overly-critical people.  (Wait... I'm being critical... This is so hard.)  The truth is, there will always be critics.  Criticism is inevitable.  Even Jesus -- especially Jesus -- was criticized.

And sometimes criticism can be a good thing.  What if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had not been critical?

Maybe the best way is not to avoid criticism, but to work through it.  To work despite it.  To be grounded in my value and my worth (as Alia Boston Hagenbach reminded our writers' group) and my own personal truth and to share those with the world in love.

Maybe the best way is not to avoid criticizing, but to do so with respect and thoughtfulness.  To work to build up and improve, not tear down and destroy.

To remember that the best way to move forward together is to keep a dialogue open to every voice, every side, every ideology.

And to remember when words boomerang back harshly at me that even best-selling, publisher-contracted authors whose words are played out on-screen have their critics.

Just like a harsh judgment doesn't make her any less than, it doesn't make me less than either.