RATATOUILLE is one of my favorite Pixar movies. I especially like Anton Ego’s monologue at the end of the film. I won’t quote it verbatim (as Disney seems to have a freak-out anytime anyone borrows even the smallest snippet of their material), but he basically says while critics thrive on negative criticism, the truth is that even the most useless piece of dreck is worth more than the critique that labels it so. That the only time critics risk anything is when they actually like something.
I have critiqued more work this past year, my own and other people’s, than I have in all the other years of my life combined, and I’ve noticed a few things. It's so easy to be negative, to see the worst in your own and other people’s writing and focus on that. Not long ago, I blogged about unconstructive criticism, and I stand by that post. But the truth is, I think we often focus on the negative because we’re afraid to like something. Because, as Mr. Ego points out, we risk more by liking something than by not liking it.
If you don’t like something, all you have to do is say it’s dreck and move along. If, on the other hand, you like something, genuinely enjoy that piece of writing and think the project has some merit, then you’re throwing yourself into the ring with the writer. Every time a rejection or a negative critique comes in, it stings you, too, because you said you liked the project.
But that’s the great thing about jumping into that ring. Suddenly, not all the blows are landing on the writer. You’re in there, too, throwing your own punches, taking a few as well, but giving the writer--the creator--someone else to lean on. Someone to ask, “I’m really not crazy, right? This isn’t just a piece of garbage?” Sometimes we need that validation more than we need anything from the people who’ve read, and liked, our work.
Huh. I meant to take this post in a completely different direction, but these last few paragraphs just kind of spilled out. And you know what? I kind of like them. Guess I’ll let them stay.
Now I’m not saying we should sugar-coat everything. If we genuinely don’t like something, we’d be cheating the writer if we didn’t tell him or her so (but in a nice way, of course). And even when I like a project overall, I still point out the places in which I think it could be improved. What I am saying is that it’s all right to be positive when you really believe in something. That as much as a writer will get out of our suggestions for improvement, he or she may get even more out of the positive things we say.