Dave Eggers (you may remember him from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) liked The Brothers Jetstream enough to drop a glitter bomb on it. “Thank God for Clarence ‘Zig Zag’ Young. This is a truly original writer. He sounds like no one else, plays by no rules, and creates wildly entertaining books that create an indelible stamp on the mind." A very thoughtful (and award-winning) poet said this about it: “A remarkable achievement offering an intricate world with wondrous and richly developed characters well worth revisiting.” An author who’s about to dust a space on a shelf for a short story Hugo or two said this: “Take Buckaroo Banzai, Hellblazer and Barbarella, turn it into the 80s cartoon of your childhood dreams, and fast forward to right here, right now. If that sounds too much like a virgin version of your favourite cocktail, don't despair. This is a grown-up pleasure.”
So let’s not be coy. We love good reviews. There’s this sense in writing communities that it’s gauche for a writer to embrace this love. THE WORK SUFFICES. Yeah, Gandalf, no. Nobody does this in a vacuum (unless you’re one of those experimental types who puts an “e” on the end of artist). The dolphins at SeaWorld aren’t masterfully somersaulting through hoops for the unfettered joy of performance; they’re doing it hoping not to get tortured—and plotting a murderous overthrow of dry bipedal bastards. But damn if the fish don’t taste good. A good fishy review fills the belly. Not a smoke-blown-up-your-butt review, or its opposite, the perennial I-didn’t-read-it-but-it-sucked (just as there are lazy writers, there are lazy readers). Sincere and real are the keys.
Viewed clinically, reviews are invaluably essential feedback that help you evolve. Those that praise could cause you to evolve webbed feet because webbed feet are cool; swim on, swim deep. Those that don’t can help form the calluses or plating needed to either protect you from hubris or to—well, actually that’s it. (Again, we’re not talking about doofy-assed negative reviews or reviews from mom and dad.) Hubris sucks and makes you a putz. Favorable to you or non, evolution (tiny mental revolutions) should be your prize. You are not here to write the same thing over and over after the same fish every day. With each effort you should overthrow you and grow what you did in the last project into a new existence entirely. Reviews help this along by shining lights and holding mirrors to mental places you might not have seen.
Like this one. This review of a fairly recent short story of mine from an antho points out some good stuff (if I’m sciency enough to pay attention). “I feel as if this story is meant to have some big ideas, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what they are or why I as a reader am supposed to care about them. It’s a story where very little actually happens, and none of it seems to mean anything.” Which makes me ask: Do I have a pattern of being obtuse? See, you can post about your stuff on Facebook and a hundred people will “like” it but never buy your work. That’s not as helpful as you’d think. You get one actual review of your work from someone trying to continue (in a small way) the conversation you started in producing the words you produced, that’s a solid win. Run with that and be happy.
Be the kid with the fucking juice box skipping down the street on a hot sunny day.
Be a Doyen of Glittery Proportions for just a little while. As long as you remember the review is not “about” you but (a) the work and (b) any plan you have for your continuance of it, all is cool.
No need to thank God for your staggering brilliance. A farmerly “That’ll do, pig” is good enough.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY