Hell hath no fury like an author scorned
If you want to be a writer but are not prepared to accept that some people will not appreciate your work, then I daresay you do not really want to be a writer, says Jean Hannah Edelstein.books Updated: Apr 02, 2011 08:11 IST
Just last week, Jacqueline Howett was like the vast majority of the worlds writers: unknown. This week, she is one of the internets most famous authors but not, alas, because her literary genius has been recognised. Instead, Howett is now the author of an internet phenomenon, thanks to her response to a negative review of her self-published novel by a blogger who gave it two stars, citing spelling and grammar errors that make the text difficult to read. Responding, Howett starts by asserting that my first book is great and demanding that the review be removed for abuse, before spiralling into a rage, concluding in telling the blogger and commenters to fuck off. It didnt surprise me that this teapot-sized tempest went viral within online writing communities, tweeted back and forth with smirky comments.
But I didnt find it entirely hysterical. Is her response pathetic? Yes. Can we surmise that her resistance to criticism may have contributed to the fact that it appears she did not allow anyone to edit her somewhat incoherent prose? Probably. But is it the same thing that everyone who has ever published anything would like to do when he receives a bad review? Im afraid so. By drawing attention to Howetts misstep, we make it seem like wed never do it ourselves. But, by golly: wed all love to.
Bad reviews mean far more to writers than good ones. Its not the least bit counterintuitive: good ones confirm the belief that were gifted, which is what makes us put our writing out there in the first place. Good criticism prompts a fleeting moment of pleasure, but only briefly satiates the longing for approbation: nearly as soon as someone says something nice, were looking for someone else who will say something nice and then after we hear from them, we start busily coming up with reasons why we should really find someone better qualified and more astute to say something nicer.
In contrast, bad reviews confirm our darkest fears: that we are rubbish at writing. I have a vague recollection that some people said some nice things about my book when it was first published two years ago, but I couldnt tell you what they were. But I will forever be able to quote the words of the critic who concluded a damning review saying that I write like I am rushing to finish an undergraduate essay. The urge to seize my laptop and send a riposte was intense. But I restrained myself. Not because I am a person of great moral fibre, but because I had spent two years working in a literary agency where I saw first-hand that people who respond to negative reactions to their work always look like fools.
If you want to be a writer but are not prepared to accept that some people will not appreciate your work, then I daresay you do not really want to be a writer. I didnt let that nasty review derail my writing career: after whingeing about how life-ruining it was for a weekend, I decided I should use the criticism as an imperative to improve. My next book, I reckon, may well be as good as an essay rushed at the postgraduate level.