Friday, January 7, 2022

Before You Criticize a Writer


by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

  • “This is the worst book I’ve ever read.”
  • “The author obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
  • “People keep saying this book is wonderful, and I totally disagree. It’s awful, and no good Christian should read it.”
Ever seen reviews like that? I have. People have written them about my books. Nothing rips your heart out like a harsh review on a story you poured your heart and soul into. 

No, we’re not talking about book reviews today, although that might be a good topic for another post. On this first Friday of 2022, I just wanted to touch on something that’s been on my heart for a while. 

When did having a critical spirit become something to aspire to? 

Have you noticed that more and more people have less and less positive feedback about books or movies or music? We are inundated with criticism day in and day out. Sure, some of it is deserving. I’ve read a few books this year and watched a few movies that could have used an extra edit. Or two. Or three. 

But no matter how much I dislike a story, no matter how differently I might have written a story, that doesn’t give me the right to personally attack the creator. I may not enjoy what they’ve created, but I don’t know his or her heart. I don’t understand their motivation.

I’m a member of many different online communities who offer feedback and criticism of books and music and movies, and over the last year, no one has had anything positive to say. Even if they like the overall concept of a book, they only seem to focus on what they hated. And it becomes more than just literary criticism. It becomes an opportunity to say cruel things and make uninformed assumptions about the creator’s intentions and personal beliefs. 

Y’all. That’s not our job. And beyond it not being our job, it’s not even in our power to know someone’s heart. That power belongs to God alone. 

Obviously I’m not lobbying for the relaxation of our standards. If a movie or a song or a story goes against what is morally and biblically correct, that should be called out. And if it isn’t done well, it’s helpful to teach how it could be done better. What frightens me is the outright antagonism and rage directed at people who disagree with us. 

That’s not helpful at all. It’s destructive. 

My friends, can we stop being so critical all the time? Can we choose to look for the positive first rather looking for things to tear apart? Can we celebrate with people who are happy rather than pointing out all the ways they could fail? 

Maybe you mean well. Maybe you’re trying to help. But let’s always remember that good discernment doesn’t always equal criticism. Sometimes harsh criticism comes from your own unresolved trauma, emotional baggage, or hurt feelings. 

And let me just say, those of us in Christian communities are the worst about this.

We love to point out books that aren’t Christian enough. We love to blacklist songs that were written by people who don’t measure up to our expectations of what a Christian artist should be. We love to say hurtful things about creatives who aren’t as outspoken as we think they should be. 

I’m looking in the mirror here. I have done this. I have sat back on my blessed assurance and blasted people who I felt didn’t perform well enough. 

Praise God, it’s not my standards those people have to meet. Praise God, I don’t have to meet my own standards. 

I think I’m just tired of conflict. I’m tired of never hearing anything good anymore, even among communities where our common ground is Jesus Christ. 

Can we take a step back and acknowledge that everyone has a different calling and a different audience? That we all come from different places and have a different purpose in life? Can we try to understand that what doesn’t resonate with us might transform someone else’s life? Can we accept that it’s possible for a story to be both something we don’t like and still worthy of praise?

That’s my goal this this year. To be honest in my feedback but full of grace. To base my criticism on the standards of what works and what doesn’t within our industry rather than aiming my words at what I assume the author was trying to accomplish. To intentionally identify my own emotional struggles before I criticize someone else’s heart.

In 2022, let’s work together to build each other up. Let’s be intentional about encouragement. And if someone asks us for criticism, let’s be gentle about it. 

I know we mean well. Most people do. But may we never forget how dangerous our words are.

TWEETABLE

Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at https://www.amycwilliams.com.

13 comments:

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    1. Thank you! I was very much talking to myself.

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  2. Excellent post, A.C. Every writer has felt the sting of criticism. There are ways to offer constructive criticism without being cruel. I think social media has fanned the flames of criticism and everyone thinks their opinion matters. Negative words come from negative people.

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    1. I agree. Social media is a great thing, but it has really fostered an environment where there is little accountability for how we speak to each other. I do believe that hurting people hurt people, but that becomes really dangerous because everyone is hurting right now.

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  3. As our mothers taught us, if you can't say anything nice, hush. As a professor I always sandwich student's papers with what works or does not work on the subject. I grade the work not the person.

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    1. Yes! Exactly! Too often we identify ourselves by what we've written, so when someone responds with negative feedback, we see it as a personal attack. That being said, trying to find a positive to go with every negative is a huge help in how to communicate with others.

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  4. Yes, girl!! Everything - EVERYTHING - you said is right on. Our dang sinful flesh. It drives me nuts. haha! It's also hard to fight against, but we have to keep trying.

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    1. That's exactly right. It's a learning process, and it starts with being kind.

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  5. Wonderful truth! I am reminded how God sees me through the lens of 'in Christ' who gave everything that I might be reconciled to God. There is nothing negative 'in Christ.' We all have areas where the process and journey help us become more like Jesus, but if we know Him, we are 'in Christ.' Praying any words I share help others find ways to write more effectively as Kingdom Citizens 'in Christ.' Praying I intentionally share in the framework of the love and affirmation we all need. Beautiful, poignant thoughts. Thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. Yes! Every time we engage with another person, we need to remember that we are acting on behalf of Jesus. It's an intimidating thing to be aware of, but with His help we can do all things!

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  6. Yes, yes, yes! Our words can be so destructive. Thank you, Amy,for saying what so needs to be said today. 100 percent with you on that! As Scripture exhorts us:
    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

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    1. That's right, John! We should be focused on building each other up, and even if we're helping to identify a problem, we can still be kind about it.

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  7. Hi dear adopted daughter, Edie! Good word. Here's the promise the Lord has given me for 2022. "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord. Thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end." Jeremiah 29:11. I'm expecting great things in 2022, including the publication of my 6th novel I've just finished at age 78. God is good and we trust Him for the future. Hugs, Elva Cobb Martin

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