Monday, July 31, 2006

On Reviews

Do not take seriously all words which are spoken... Eccl 7:21

... or written. A good review can be a wonderful light and encouragement along the rough road of writing a novel, a task that is the ultimate in delayed gratification. A bad review, on the other hand, is not only disappointing, it can also be demoralizing and even paralyzing. What's particularly weird is how you can read five good reviews and it's the condemning words from number six that you remember most clearly for months afterward... Or is that just me?

In any case, it shouldn't be that way. A review is nothing more than one person's reaction to a specific work: what he liked and what he didn't like and why, preferably couched in civil and relatively objective terms. I've heard some argue that Christians shouldn't be tearing down other christians' works, and I can see their point to some degree. On the other hand if you ask your friend what she thought about a book, is it bad if she tells you what she liked about and what she didn't? Is that criticism? Or just the expression of an opinion? When does one become another? I don't know.

But I think if you put your work out in the public forum -- as entertainment especially -- it becomes a fair game for others to comment upon. Inevitably some of those comments will be negative, and I think those who make them should have the freedom to do so. What good would reviews be if no one was allowed to say what they didn't like about a work and only what they did?

God, Himself, doesn't even do that. He could silence everyone who criticized His work, which they do constantly in the millions, but He doesn't. He gives them the freedom to say whatever they wish (for now anyway), and I believe we should as well.

Besides, I think that a negative review, deserved or not, can have a good effect. We don't really do well when all we get is praise. About three encounters with, "You're such a great writer!" and the next thing you know, we're believing it. We need to know that we are not God's gift to the literary world.

Negative reviews help me to stop being so serious about everything, especially myself and what others think about my work. One thing my pastor says is, "People have a right to reject you! They have a right not to like you." For some of us, this is a startling statement. Especially those of us who work hard to please others and see that everyone is happy with us. But it's true. There are some people who just aren't going to like you, or me or our books. And we probably will feel the same about them. So what?

It doesn't mean we have to stop being who we are. Or that our work has no right to exist. Or is intrinsically bad. Negative responses -- rejections of any kind -- come into our lives to teach us to step back, to stop taking things so personally and get our eyes on the right thing: off of ourselves and onto the Lord.

When I do that, I realize how arrogant I'm being to get upset when not everyone loves my work. I recall that God has devised a specific and personal plan for my life all the way back in Eternity past. That He has ordained the good works that I should walk in and has provided everything I need to do so. He is the one who has called me to this and given me whatever amount of talent He has given me -- and if it's not as much as He's given someone else, what of it? Since He's willed His highest and best for all His children, and yet gives out varying amounts of talent among them, then the amount of talent can't be what matters.

I am who I am by the grace of God. I know what I like. I'm writing from that. I answer to the Lord for what I do, using the talent that He gave me. So what if someone thinks it's not enough talent, or I should have done things differently? The talent is what it is, and the book is published. The time for change is over. I'm writing something else now and fault-finding aimed at previous works in no way helps me with what I'm doing now. Why give it more than a moment's thought?

"Do not take seriously all words which are spoken" is a good motto. Especially since reviewers' comments don't even make sense sometimes. Or are obviously the result of the reviewer's personal ax grinding. Sometimes I wonder if they even read the book I wrote. And sometimes I just flat don't agree with the criticism. I have that right, too.

The point is, reviewers should be free to give their opinions, good and bad, if that is what they wish to do. And if what they say is negative, and delivered in the nastiest way possible, I am free to ignore them! They don't have to destroy me or my writing momentum. God's given me everything I need to deal with them. I have only to use it.

Grace and peace,