Thursday, December 23, 2010

Your Work Stinks; Deal With It

When I was a kid, I knew what artists were like. I suppose Tom Runnels was the archetypical artist for me. He was a local artist who was somewhat well known because he had a column in the local paper which included a pencil drawing along with the text. He also did sculpture. You can see an example here. Our art teacher at school was his niece. She is quite talented in her own right. I’m sure she must have sighed a great sigh of relief when she finally taught me that the sky touches the horizon and there isn’t a big white gap between the two.

But as you can see from the picture taken at Tom Runnels’ Cat Ranch, he was just a down to earth guy who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. The thing about art in any form is that most people don’t get rich at it. For that matter, most people are doing good if they make money at all. Art is a passion, it isn’t a profession. On top of that, there are always the critics. You pour your life into your work and there are always people there who will talk about what’s wrong with it. Sadly, they are usually right. I suppose we could say that the customer is always right, but it’s more than that. Whether we’re talking about a painting or a novel, if someone mentions something wrong with it, they are likely to see it as a real problem. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll usually agree.

Just because we agree doesn’t mean we have the ability to fix the problem, but all of us produce flawed work. If we think otherwise, we’re only lying to ourselves. What often happens is that a mistake or a plot weakness that we thought was insignificant is a major sticking point for our critic. Our tendency is to blow the critic off and say that we don’t think our work is wrong. We would like to belittle the critic for thinking that the issue is significant. We should not do that.

I am often struck by the realization that there are popular authors out there who are selling tons of books and yet I look at their work and I would love to rewrite major portions of their books. Some of their fans rave about their work and I struggle to get through it. I can’t help but wonder if I am such a terrible writer that I can’t recognize good writing when I see it. But I’m beginning to reach the conclusion that they really are as bad as I think they are. That doesn’t, however, mean that their readers are idiots for liking their work. The stuff that throws me with other writers is the same stuff that I attempt to remove from my own work. One thing I hate is awkward phrasing. That’s something the general reader may not notice as much because people use awkward phrasing every day. I hate how characters in romance novels are always chuckling and yawning and everything else while they are speaking. It isn’t right, but readers don’t care; they don’t know any better.

Where does this leave us? First, we’ll never be as important as we would like people to think we are. Let’s get over ourselves. Second, if someone criticizes our work, we should listen. Once again, let’s get over ourselves. Maybe it’s an issue we can correct next time or maybe it isn’t, but anything a reader finds to criticize is likely a legitimate issue. With luck (which I don’t actually believe in), other readers won’t care, but it gives us something we can improve.