War of Words

In my latest interview with Andre Dubus (which we’ll publish in our upcoming issue), we got to talking about reviews, both good and bad. Andre confessed that except for the occasional peek at the most flattering reviews, he no longer reads them. He said he was open to criticism, but the reviews merely created a momentum of self-consciousness, which is always death to the creative process. Amen, I say. I’ve decided after thinking about it, and talking about it, listening to other people talk about it, and writing about, that the truth of it is that we don’t actually care what anyone else thinks about what we make. I know the exact opposite appears to be true. I know praise can make us dance and criticism can ruin our day, or our week, or life. And yet we were not put on this planet as creative people to care even one iota about what another person thinks.

You cannot start writing until you forget to care what other people might think of what you are going to write. These two thoughts, “What do I want?” and “What do other people want?” are creatively incompatible. But to care about reviews is to believe that what other people want – for that is all a review is, another person saying, I want this, or, I don’t want this – matters to us. We rejoice over the good reviews because they give us permission to value our work again – which we already did – and despair over the bad reviews because we believe we can no longer value our work.

How can I live my life on the yo-yo of what other people think and what other people want? It is the very definition of instability. Every time I start caring what other people think of me or my work, I feel anywhere from nervous to suicidal. And every time I stop caring, I am immediately at peace. Peace, after all, is our natural state of being, whereas war is acting on the unnatural belief that we cannot be happy until other people change. A war of words is no nobler than a war with guns – both were conflicts created to feel safe again after we had left the safety of our own hearts.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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