Ask a classroom full of children to guess how many gumdrops are in a jar. They’ll give you a small margin of error. Groups are better at estimating than individuals. Bring researchers with different theories together and watch them cancel out each other’s biases. Groups with diverse opinions are good at making rational decisions. Go to trivia night with friends with different interests and you’ll increase your odds of success. When people with different focuses collaborate, they raise the collective knowledge pool.
It takes a lot of positive reinforcement to support a writer’s ego. Flattery fades, while words of discouragement echo. It’s not that we don’t know how to take a compliment, it’s just that we lie for a living and we’re skeptical of everyone.
Praise for our writing feels like a put-on, something that dissolves upon cross examination. “What was your favorite part of my novel? What did you like most about the characters? Did you even finish it?”
Harsh criticism feels genuine, because it confirms our suspicions. “I knew that story came too easily. I should’ve outlined more. I should’ve shown it to more beta readers.”
What writers aspire to do is hard. We’re a generation trying to launch careers on Amazon while our competition gives everything away on Goodreads. It used to be that no one was buying what we were selling, now no one is taking what we’re giving.
One bad reaction invalidates a thousand compliments from family and friends, who we suspected were only feigning an interest to spare our feelings. A stranger’s insults resonate, because they have no stake in our wellbeing.
I can still quote the first negative comments I got online. They came from a message board where I’d previewed a few poems from what I’d thought was a collection worth publishing.
The first response read, “If you have a book coming out, then I’ll eat my hat.”
Enter the Anti-Muse. At the time, I had no idea how gentle he was being, that this was him on his best behavior. As I continued to share my work in public forums, the two of us became very familiar.
The Anti-Muse believes his tastes are universal. If something isn’t his cup of tea then the person who made it ought to shuffle off this mortal coil. It’s not enough for him to dismiss the author’s spark of inspiration, he needs to suck it right out of them.
Rather than leave others to separate the wheat from the chaff, the Anti-Muse burns the field down, planting seeds of doubt to spare the world from another crop of poets, bloggers, and self-publishers. When a budding author asks for advice, he tells them to quit. The Anti-Muse prides himself on his ability to quell artistic ambition.
I remember those first harsh reviews more than what I’d shared. That’s the problem with the Anti-Muse. He likes to linger.
Living with an Anti-Muse on Your Back
Once the Anti-Muse gets under your skin, he sets up shop, stirring up intrusive thoughts, flooding the imagination with bad memories. He needs your self doubt on hand so he can reference it at a moment’s notice.
The Anti-Muse has you writing slow, editing as you go, making you so self conscious about what you’re working on, you’re forgetting crucial details about the story to come. He has you overworking for simple statements, second guessing every line of description.
At first you worry your descriptions are too poetic, then you worry your verbs aren’t evocative enough. You use exaggerations to add emotional weight, catch yourself doing it, then resort to procedural accounts like you’re writing a police report. Your purple prose turn beige.
The Anti-Muse has you over researching your subject, then wondering if your dialogue is too technical, as if you dropped all this knowledge just to prove your knowhow. Then he has you gut every plot line that required any level of expertise.
When your imagination suggests a bold new direction, the Anti-Muse keeps you pressing on a familiar one. You play it safe, making sure everything you write feels familiar. Your characters speak in tired clichés, not because you lack an ear for dialogue, but because you lack the confidence to write your own.
Rereading your result, the Anti-Muse has you wondering if you should even bother editing. That’s his function. He’s a demon, sabotaging creative endeavors until the artist is ready to throw the towel in.
Dismissing the Anti-Muse
The good thing about encountering the Anti-Muse online is that he makes himself easy to identify. Like a desperate lawyer who knows the law isn’t on his side, the Anti-Muse makes appeals to emotion. He hates your art without offering a clear reason he thinks it’s wrong.
In some cases the Anti-Muse doesn’t know enough about the medium to offer constructive criticism, literary theory eludes him, he tears you down, because he doesn’t know how to tell you what to fix. He may not know art, but he knows what he hates.
In other cases, the Anti-Muse knows too much, but refuses to share his wisdom. He’s failed to make it on his own, now he resents anyone with similar aspirations. If he can’t be successful, why should anyone?
Either way, the Anti-Muse’s hostility is easy to dismiss, because you know there’s no sense in reasoning with it.
When I’m online, I tune the Anti-Muse out at the first signs of name calling, profanity, or the words “Sheesh” and “Bro.” I don’t put a spotlight on him when he’s heckling, because I know he only speaks in zingers.
Exploring forums on writing, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see an angry know-it-all, who is only there to put newbies in their place, trash talking like the conversation is a match of Call of Duty. Examining their comment history, I find they’re terminally toxic, self-congratulating, flame war veterans.
Some people come across as the Anti-Muse by accident. They know their stuff, but refuse to cushion their candor. They’ll grade your writing, without a professor’s kindly classroom manor. They don’t have the patience to pay you compliments. They spot problems and dive right in.
Before you go dismissing critics based on their tone, see if they’ve gone to the trouble of citing examples. Did they use terms that seem like foreign jargon? Look up their lingo to see if they touched on tropes you use too often. Did they give suggestions for taking your story in another direction? If they hadn’t come off as smug, would you listen to the advice they’ve given?
Every screenwriter that came to speak at my school said the same thing about getting notes from producers: if a suggestion was based on an abstract feeling, the screenwriter ignored it. If a producer touched on something specific, their advice was always considered.
When it comes to taking criticism, developing a thick skin isn’t a writer’s only responsibility. Developing an ear for good feedback is more important.
A critic’s ability to articulate is what separates assessments from reactions.
“No one cares about you, so why the hell would they want to read your memoir?” Isn’t feedback worth paying attention to.
“Every character speaks with the same voice, same dialect, and same pop culture references. You need to make them more distinct so we know which one is talking.” Is feedback you can use.
Just remember, your work will never be universally loved. You will always be a hack to someone. Accept it and keep writing.
There’s a reoccurring phrase characters on Lost always shout when someone tells them that something is impossible:
Something about that stubborn declaration has always resonated with me. I find myself thinking it, every time someone tells me there’s no future in fiction, that I shouldn’t even bother, that I should leave the storytelling to some old Hollywood producers recycling the same franchises year after year.
Let me set some expectations before you decide if this article is worth your time. This piece talks about the recently leaked celebrity nudes that are up all over the internet, if that isn’t a big enough TRIGGER WARNING for you then read further.
My article will not:
shame anyone for taking sexy-selfies
deny the role of personal responsibility in protecting your data
celebrate the recent leaks
OR scold anyone for looking at them
So what’s my angle? I’m going to talk about how ridicule in the public square reveals an empathy gap, how cyber-bully attacks on celebrities run off onto the community, and how security breaches affect everyone. My ultimate argument is: if you store sensitive material on your technology you should feel just as violated as Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton.
Even if you keep all your valuables buried in a doomsday bunker, there’s still a reason for you to read on from here.
My goal isn’t to lead pitchforks to Apple’s doorstep or reverse engineer the hackers’ methods. My agenda is to make a plea for empathy, to persuade you from giving into mob mentality.
How Stolen Celebrity Photos Violate All Our Privacy
When celebrity nudes leak, the internet reacts like they’re a gift, thanking the hackers for uncovering them, with more praise than anyone gave Edward Snowden. This weekend the twitter community collectively ogled actresses and models. While some users shared too much information about their blistered palms, others shamed the celebs for taking the photos in the first place.
Twitter users said things like, “Why would celebrities put nude photos on devices connected to the internet? Don’t they know that when they walk out on talk shows we Google their name for naked pics before they can sit? They’re public figures and their figures should be available to the public. Their fame entitles us to see their every curve and crevice.”
Hacker’s claim they found an exploit in Apple’s iCloud service, allowing them to gain access to targeted figures, promising more nudes in the future. Whether you believe celebrities deserve their privacy or you’re happy to take a peak, you should think about what it means if someone has access to this information.
iCloud doesn’t just back up photos, for iPhone and iPad users it backs up everything, including: contacts, addresses, notes, in-app information, and purchases. For Mac users, iCloud backs up all of your Pages, Numbers, and Keynote documents. For Windows users it can back up contacts and iTunes songs. iCloud is a treasure trove of personal, professional, and financial information.
Think about how this breach applies to you or someone you know, before you start selfie-shaming.
It’s not just photos that are sensitive material, it’s things like Stephenie Meyer’s fifth Twilight novel, which was put “on hold indefinitely” after it was accidentally released, it’s Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful 8 screenplay, that almost suffered the same fate. In both cases early drafts were leaked by trusted friends, think about how breaches of artists’ technology could kill so many more projects in the process.
Some of you might be thinking, “So, I don’t have sexy selfies or magnum opuses worth stealing. I’m a nobody. Who would want to hack me?”
Hackers claimed to have breached iCloud back in May. Users reported being locked out of their phones, seeing messages that said if they ever wanted to use their AppleIDs again, they’d have to send money to a PayPal account. Someone was holding their profiles hostage. Sure, they could restore their phones to factory settings, but they’d be locked out of their IDs forever. This meant all their contacts, apps, and personal data would be lost unless they paid the ransom.
The question shouldn’t be “Why would someone put nude photos on devices connected to the Internet?” It should be, “Why would anyone put sensitive information on devices connected to the Internet?”
The answer is a little more obvious when phrased like that. We do it because it’s convenient. We do it because we trust the services we depend on. We do it because we’ve replaced all the other places we used to put that information.
I’m not shocked that celebrities are sending topless photos to their lovers, nor am I shocked they didn’t use two-step verification to protect them. These are new technologies and we’re still figuring out how they work. We’re all learning harsh lessons when it comes to sexting. Delete a photo on your phone, it might still be in your cloud backup. Actress, Mary Elizabeth Winstead claimed she’d deleted her photos two years ago, but somehow someone was able to unearth them.
What shocks me is the empathy gap, the notion that if these women didn’t want these photos shown they shouldn’t have used their phone. Think about that the next time you pay for something online, send a drunken text, or enter your home address into a map app.
If you think you have no personal information worth stealing, you’re not using your imagination.
What if someone get’s it in their head to stalk you and a breach gives them all the tools they need? What if one day you become a public figure and a photo of you taking a hit off a bong surfaces? What if one of your kids makes a stupid mistake and someone shares it around the schoolyard? You warned them all about the dangers of sexting, but they were in love and did it anyway. Would you tell your child, “Well, this ought to be a good lesson in personal responsibility.”
Should We have different Empathy Standards for Celebrities?
You might think I’m missing the point, that there’s a guilty pleasure in seeing people of higher stature brought down to earth. Legions of fans are a superficial support system. Celebrity status is not a bullet proof vest. Money doesn’t shield anyone from mockery. It’s a copout to say, “All these starlets can just cry into their cash.”
I’ve seen twitter users make fun of these leaked photographs, saying these women look like train wrecks without the benefit of Photoshop. If you’re upset with magazine culture’s obsession with beauty, who should you direct your anger at: the Photoshopped subject, the person behind the mousepad, or yourself for buying into any of it?
Don’t think mocking a public figure will somehow elevate your stature. Don’t disregard the golden rule when it comes to celebrities. Don’t sacrifice your empathy for the sake of your envy.
It’s easy to lob things at people we’ve put up on pedestals. Some of them might even take their tomatoes in stride, but most of those tomatoes splash back onto the community, and right now we all look pretty damn silly.
If you’re going to invest your time writing, find a better subject than ridicule. The marketplace of ideas is saturated with it. It’s trading at its peak. Sell sell sell. You don’t want to be caught mocking someone when the market shifts. You’ll just seem like a jerk.
I know that cruelty can make your voice seem more authoritative, but the world doesn’t need another dictator. Trust me, I know that ranting can seem like a safe guard against receiving ridicule yourself. It takes a thick skin to take it on the chin.
This audio blog, this rant, is my critique on baseless criticism. As a written entry, it’s one of my most popular pieces, this time I brought a bass-line with me for backup.
Ridicule has over-saturated the marketplace of ideas. It’s frightened off potential investors: authors, poets, and screenwriters. They bury their spark in their portfolios, when the market could be nurturing it. Investors see an abundance of taunts, and a scarcity of discourse. They horde their assets, because they know what happens to the people that share them.
Inspiration is taken apart by market analysts. They are not creators themselves. They lack the language for artistic analysis, but they fake it all the same.
Every one of them has a harsh word on the tip of their tongues, and a scathing review on the tips of their fingers. Every one of them is entitled to their opinion, and they treat their opinions like facts.
The problem is: when everyone is a critic, criticism loses its value. With the bar set this low, there is no more room for growth.
The demand for ridicule has been inflated, by a handful of traders with nothing but put-downs in their portfolio. Their sole product is their ability to defame. To ride the uptick of an artist’s epiphany, just to crash it on the way down. To pump it and dump it. To treat inspiration like a toxic asset. Continue reading Ridicule is a Bad Investment→