When I was a kid, my mom used to change adages and descriptive phrases to remove offensive words. She would say: “Colder than a witch’s nose,” or “Can’t tell his head from a hole in the ground.” You know, instead of the REAL saying. The new phrases did not always make sense and they seldom evoked the intended imagery, but they were at least of the “G-rated” variety.
Well, since this is a G-rated blog, I’m going to change an adage: Opinions are like navels – everybody’s got one.
I’m not talking about the opinions my friends have given me about book covers, fonts, colors, word choices, etc. Everyone has been positive and helpful, providing great reasons for the choices they’ve recommended. These opinions have improved my book tremendously.
No, I’m talking about the opinions I’ve heard from authors about other authors. Snarky. Writers can be snarky about each other. Especially famous authors.
Did you know that Mark Twain disliked the writings of Jane Austen, James Fenimore Cooper, George Eliot, and Robert Louis Stevenson? He published essays on the shortcomings of their works! Did you know that Charlotte Bronte penned a scathing dismissal of Jane Austen’s novels? Poor Jane – again. Stephen King has publicly lambasted Dean Koontz, James Patterson, and Stephanie Meyer – three very successful authors. Okay, maybe some of it is to be expected (argh, I’ve caught the bug).
Authors seem to be good at insulting their own – which I suppose is only natural, given their goal of effective word usage: the affronts using pen rather than sword; the stings of a rapier wit.
I find some of the insults breathtakingly droll. I had fun reading The 30 Harshest Author-on-Author Insults In History. The phrase “I wish I’d thought of that” ran through my mind as I scoured the list. That is until I thought about the pain these statements cause not only the writer but the legions of fans who follow, even adore, these injured authors. Swords and rapiers hurt people. Weren’t these critics also injuring the readers who love Austen and Cooper, Eliot and Stevenson, and Meyers, Koontz, and Patterson? Aren’t the fans insulted too?
Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” wasn’t the target of H.G. Wells (#23 on the top 30 list).
In my opinion Twain and Bronte were cowards, picking on already dead writers (with few exceptions). King at least started a feud with authors who could fight back!
I think criticism of writing has its place – in English and writing classes (where it usually takes a less personal tone and is more specific and constructive). When a friend has asked your opinion of a book they are thinking of reading, that’s okay too. When the cons are accompanied by the pros of the work (thus giving balance), that’s the best kind of criticism.
I know I will have critics throughout my writing career. I just hope that snarky isn’t de rigueur.