Every creative person—writer, artist, singer or actor—cringes while facing critics and the looming tsunami from their poisoned tongues and quills. Who likes being judged after all?
The sad truth, however, is that you are being judged, dissected, evaluated and scrutinized, all the while.
Remember that school teacher who told you in Grade I that your writing was terrible?
Or, that sports coach who called you too short (at age 9) to ever be a great basketball player?
Or, that next door neighbour who “advised” your parents to do something about your “shyness”?
Or, that bully in school who called you a weakling and a sissy?
We writers are especially sensitive to criticism and on many occasions take things too personally. Some lose confidence if they don’t get a publishing deal even after sending 30 proposals. They conclude that they are not good enough and go back to their day jobs.
And when we are published, and some readers tell us that this is the worst book they have ever read, many of us think of packing away our writing paraphernalia and quit writing altogether.
This is where I find Dan Brown so reassuring. I have been a great fan of Dan Brown’s novel for quite some time now. Some friends think that is an indication of how “pedestrian” my tastes are.
But seriously, I do think that Dan Brown is a great storyteller. I don’t really care whether his books represent fact or fiction. But that they entertain me and take me to absolutely another world is enough for me.
Recently Dan Brown visited India. Nearly a thousand people, both men and women, old and the young, came to listen to him. Dan Brown spoke about religion and science and all kinds of interesting stuff. The audience was curious to know about Dan Brown’s next novel and whether Robert Langdon would ever visit India.
Everything was hunky dory till the presenter Rajdeep Sardesai, one of the most eminent TV journalists of India, took out a piece of paper. That paper contained all the negative things written or said about the Da Vinci Code by famous people. It looked like that Rajdeep wanted to pull Dan Brown’s leg and see his reaction in front of a thousand people.
Rajdeep started with Salman Rushdie’s famous quote on the Da Vinci Code. He read out loudly:
“Do not start me on The Da Vinci Code … a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name.”
(Discussion at Woodruff Auditorium in Lawrence, KS; October 7, 2005)”
“How would you feel if you had written that book? “
Rajdeep Sardesai did not stop at that. He asked Dan Brown’s opinion of Mr. Salman Rushdie’s quote.
“He is a nice man,” Dan Brown replied without batting an eyelid.
And that was it. The audience was floored. People started cheering and clapping loudly. Dan Brown looked extremely relaxed. It didn’t look like he had been hurt. Rajdeep Sardesai appeared a little disappointed with Dan Brown’s reaction. There was no thrill in whatever Dan Brown said.
Writing is like cooking, Dan Brown continued. A chef prepares a soufflé to his taste. Not everyone is going to like his soufflé except those who share the chef’s taste. Similarly, I wrote a novel to my taste. Not everyone is going to like what I write. But those who share my taste, become my fans.
This is what makes Dan Brown a true rock star!
This reminded me of a comment from one of my reviewers on Library Thing who said that I bash my former work colleagues too much in my book Quiet Phoenix: An Introvert’s Guide to Rising in Career & Life.
Certainly, my reviewers are all very “nice people.” But if I am talking about how introverts can survive bosses blatantly practicing favouritism and colleagues who regularly steal ideas and backstab you, you cannot expect me to say very nice things about such people. You are not supposed to be polite when you are writing a book about office politics. Surely my former office colleagues are wonderful people in their personal lives. They were all very friendly, understanding and approachable. It is a sad thing that the cut throat competition of the workplace makes ordinary people do extra-ordinarily horrible things.
For that reason, I don’t blame them at a personal level. In fact, I forgive all of them by the end of the book, because I have really moved on.
I also understand that my book will not appeal to everyone just as a soufflé is not everyone’s cup of tea. A book that teaches women to stand up against their abusive husbands will not appeal to those who practice and perpetrate domestic violence. But you don’t expect an author to say that women should not question their husbands simply because the society expects them to do so, do you?
It is the same logic that applies to my book. I can’t say that I worked with great colleagues or team players when actually I didn’t. Also when the purpose of my book is to teach introverts how to deal with bad bosses and office colleagues, I will be dishonest if I brushed under the carpet all such instances of bad behaviour.
Conclusion: If you have to achieve anything in life, stop listening to people who call themselves critics. In the writing world, there is a common saying that those who do not have the guts to write a single word become critics. I’m sure this would be true about many other professions.
Remember, those who can, do. Those who can’t, criticise.
Have a great weekend!