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August 2014

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Office politics

When I saw this Tumblr in which Maureen Johnson quoted Sarah Rees Brennan I made a note of it, because it discussed several things that come up for writers once we venture beyond our own writing caves and start to interact with one another--and with one another's work. In a way, these issues are our version of office politics. Our office just has more widely spaced desks than most offices, and our watercooler is the internet.

As Maureen says, paraphrasing Sarah, "it can be hard for us to talk about other authors because there is a difference between the person and the work." And I love when she says, "Sometimes we have to cut each other some slack. A point of disagreement does not equal hate. And a brief encounter or reading about someone online does not mean that you know them."

All true, for me at least. It's interesting dealing with other writers because we may find a real person more or less compelling than his or her work. More or less interesting, more or less offensive, more or less inspiring, more or less our cup of tea. It's wonderful when we adore the writer and the work, but it doesn't always happen that way. This is why I don't ask other writers what they think of my work, unless we are in a critique relationship. I presume that if they feel the burning need to say something about my work, they will; but if they didn't like it or haven't read it, then I have no desire to put us both on the spot like that.

Most of the time, I can separate myself from my work; I can follow the wise advice not to take things personally. (Sometimes people make it personal, offering not literary criticism but abuse--but that's another situation entirely.) But my work is precious to me. I put a lot of effort and emotion into it. Other writers do, too. We're colleagues. And whether a book happens to float my own personal boat or not, I can at least respect my colleague's effort. I know what goes into writing a book.

I do think that writers can give one another negative but thoughtful reviews, and they can discuss things that they find problematic in one another's work, without this being seen as an attack or unneighborly. Negative reviewing is not something I do publicly myself, but that's a choice I've made only for me, a choice on how I want to spend my limited hours. I have the utmost respect for writers who can fill those roles, and frankly, I think we need them. I don't think our "workplace" has to be sugarcoated in relentless flattery--it wouldn't be good for us, and it wouldn't be good for our readers.

I choose to ponder the criticisms I have of others' work in private; it's part of studying my craft. Sometimes I'll discuss a criticism in general terms on my blog without naming the author or book, boiling down the problem to its essential lesson. (In fact, my stripping out the specific identifying info of a book has become so automatic to me, that a writer friend recently asked me why I was being rather cloak-and-dagger when discussing a certain literary problem in a private email conversation with her.)

I think that when we start from a place of respect for one another, our community is at its strongest--whether we're agreeing or disagreeing, praising or criticizing, congratulating one another for a job well done or pushing one another to become better. And though we're not required to take abuse, we can give one another the benefit of the doubt because, as Maureen says, we are not all at our very best every moment of the day. Sometimes we are grumpier or less patient or less insightful than we wish we could be. Sometimes we have toothaches.


With this post, I'll be taking a short break from blogging, to attend to some offline business and pleasure. See you in about a week!

Comments

Wise send-off words. Hope you have a good week!
Thank you!
I think so much of life is like this -- we have to meet others in a place of respect. We don't know what their lives entail; they don't know us. It does get challenging with writers, though, because everyone puts some of themselves into their work, and it gets tricky. When I review books, I try to keep my comments objective -- I try to criticize the writing rather than the heart of the book. And I try to acknowledge that just because something didn't click with me doesn't mean that the book itself isn't well done and won't reach others.

That said, there is one author, in particular, whose actions have turned me off to her completely. I've read some of her books -- and I really liked some of them -- but I won't read any more. Her arrogance in a couple of situations put such a bad taste in my mouth that I can't get past it...that doesn't mean the situation will never be resolved, of course. But I hope that if I ever end up published, I'll remember to meet everyone with respect. :)
I hear you.
I think the nice or not-so-nice things we do in person can help tip the scale toward or away from us, when a person is choosing from among all the worthy books in the world.
The cover on that book struck me wrong. It sounds like The Diary of Anne Frank but it LOOKS like 50 Shades of WWII.
Apparently the NYT said something along those lines as well, though I liked that cover. (Just another of the many things on which the NYT hasn't consulted me. ;-)