Everyone's a Critic

Woe! Woe is me! For the first time in my life my precious, heartfelt words are out there in the big bad wide world and – ouch! What are you doing, firing such barbed arrows into my heart? Oh you scoundrel, how can you not like the story I slaved for months over, you must be a heartless beast, or at the very least, an idiot who didn’t see the subtext that was staring you in the face…

…or so it feels for about 60 seconds after reading a bad review, before I have to force myself to sit back and wonder if they have a point. Hello internet, meet ego – one of you will not enjoy this encounter. 😉

Actually, now that the reviews have started to flow for Interzone #225, and my story By Starlight, two things have struck me – none of them actual flying arrows. The first is that the old adage is true – you can get ten good reviews and one bad one, and all you’ll be able to think about is the bad one. By Starlight has had some really lovely reviews from people and they leave me warm and fuzzy for about five minutes, but the occasional bad one sticks like glue to my mind.

But isn’t that maybe for the best? It’s true that you can’t please everyone with a story, and there’s bound to be someone out there who just didn’t like it, didn’t get what you were aiming for – not their cup of tea. But equally the person pointing the finger saying “hey, there’s an inconsistency here” might have a very good point that should be learned from. If you only ever pay attention to the positive comments then you won’t grow as a writer – what’s true in a critiquing group is still true in the wild anonymous online jungle. Getting something in print doesn’t mean you can suddenly stop trying harder!

The second thing that struck me is just how different opinions on all five of the stories in IZ #225 have been. One critic’s favourite is another critic’s one-star piece. It suddenly hits home just how little you can predict about how people in general will react to a story, and how you really shouldn’t take it personally either way.

One thing that did make me smile, though, was finally finding a couple of reviews that made certain assumptions about my nameless narrator. I’m not saying what, though. You’ll have to decide for yourselves. 🙂

So, what’s the worst thing anyone’s ever said about something you’ve written? Let’s have a group therapy session now. I think being called “mediocre” was far worse than someone saying they really didn’t like the story. I’d much rather someone hated it than think “meh”. Post your thoughts and exorcise those demons…

Rebecca J Payne

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About Rebecca J Payne

Cambridge-based author of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and occasional Shakespeare obsessive.
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