Sunday Quote: Wallach on Critics as Hangmen
“Having the critics praise you is like having the hangman say you've got a pretty neck”
- Eli Wallach
While digging up epigraphs for a book I'm writing (working title: Hangman's Bayou), I came across this fabulous quote and immediately grokked it. Not that I don't love praise. I wag like a whipped puppy. But there's a huge danger in assigning any one critic, whether it be a reviewer, judge, agent, editor, or even a reader, too much importance.
If you allow others to be the only worthwhile judges of your work, you give away your power, your own sense of what resonates. And you risk falling victim to any negative word that comes your way.
I learned a lot about this while working with one particular agent. At my request (masochist that I am), I asked her to send me copies of rejections, but she would only send them in batches. When I put three to five together, I could see the reasons stated for the rejections (sometimes on work that ultimately sold to an editor who loved it, was well reviewed, and later won awards) were almost always contradictory. If I'd received each rejection right away, I might've been tempted to keep going back and revising -- likely eviscerating the raw story magic that eventually found its audience.
The best policy is to take the good and bad with a grain of salt. Remember it's not your manuscript's job to please every audience, but to find its particular fans. If you must read your reviews (I admit, I have to) try looking for a preponderance of opinion about your strengths and/or weaknesses rather than paying too much attention to the individual judgment.
So how do you handle good reviews and cope with bad ones?