Embrace the Critics

Colum McCann > Letters to Young Writers > Embrace the Critics

Embrace the critics, especially the idiot who wounds you the deepest. Don’t stew. Don’t lash out. Don’t talk behind his back. Walk up to him at the bar. Ask him if you can buy him a drink. Buy him an espresso, a beer, a whiskey. Watch him sip. Sip your own. Thank him for his review. Clock his surprise. Pause a moment then tell him – with a straight face – that it was the worst-written review you have read in a long time. Say it without anger. Don’t walk away. Hold your stare. See if he has a sense of humour. If he understands you, and hangs around, and laughs, he just might be the critic you want: he might eventually become your ideal reader. Go read his review again: he possibly has something important to tell you. Every now and then there is nothing better than having somebody turn your work inside out. Still, the fundamental rule is, don’t believe the critics, good or bad, but especially the good ones. The thing is that if you believe the good stuff you must, by natural corollary, believe the bad. In the end the only thing that matters is what you are going to write next. And be happy for your friend if she gets a good review. It will not limit the possibility of your own good review. There are not a finite number of them. Believe in what you have written. Be open to being your own critic. Every now and then we have to walk up to ourselves.