Why I Try Not to Write Bad Reviews – Bloomberg:
“To my regret, I am, as my family and friends will testify, neither nice nor sweet. And I have certainly delivered my share of scathing takedowns and over-the-top denunciations. But I’m not particularly proud of it, and as I backpack into middle age, I’ve been trying to cut down on the snark, along with late nights, red wine and almost everything else I enjoyed in my 30s.
If not because I am nice, then why? Out of pity for my victims? Oh, sure, that’s a factor. When I used to write mean reviews of people’s books, I thought of them as big, powerful people who deserved to have their work torn down. Then I started running into those people, and to my shock, they had read — and remembered — even reviews I’d written for obscure outlets. They were people who had spent years of their lives working on something — something they thought was really important — and I had spent perhaps two or three hours composing a sarcasm-filled denunciation. They were hurt, just like I’d be. This is both sobering and socially awkward.
But that’s not actually the main reason I avoid it. The main reason I avoid the joys of snarky takedowns is that it’s not very good for you. Snark is immense, immense fun; the only thing more enjoyable than chortling to yourself over a particularly well-turned insult is having your friends and acquaintances e-mail to tell you how awesome it was. But if you’re basically pretty good at snotty putdowns — and most bloggers have at least an apprentice-level facility with this art — it’s almost too much fun. It’s too easy. It’s the writing equivalent of skiing the bunny slope.
I have written some epic snark, and I have written a book, and let me just tell you, there is no comparison. Books are hard. Reported features are hard. Sarcasm and outrage are easy, which is why they tend to peak in adolescence, unlike, say, mastery of nuclear physics.”
What I do for a living is help guide young students, most of whom have never had any experience, through the difficult process of managing a giant, months-long project from conception to completion. At the end it is put before 12,000+ ticket-buying people for public consumption. While the applause is always loud and enthusiastic (the audience is, after all, made of of many supportive competitors who are also in the show), I’ve lost track of the number of people who think that buying a ticket to the show gives them license to publicly tear down the creators. Mind you, this isn’t the sort of constructive criticism that enables the performers/creators to improve the following year. It usually takes the form of witty, snarky, and even cruel evaluations of everything from how good someone looks in their costume (which is particularly mean if a performer doesn’t fit body norms) to just how well the particular group is liked. The really bad critics seem like they’ve never left high school.
Criticism has a place– but that place must be earned. I have a fortune cookie scrap I carry around with me nearly everywhere I go. It says “If your criticism isn’t true your praise means nothing.” Wisdom! It is very hard to create an atmosphere of safety where you can venture the truly stupid ideas (99% of which never work, but oh that 1%!) without feeling like an idiot. But creating that atmosphere, and creating within that atmosphere, is a rare and rewarding thing. I like to think that the people I work with get to create within this environment. It’s healthy, creative, and fun. It is gratifying to know that once they’ve run that sort of creativity gauntlet they will likely never criticize unthinkingly or cruelly again. Most people, like the writer of the article I linked to, start to see the subject of their criticism as a person, not just an opportunity to build themselves up.
Knowing that the Snarky Ones are out there just waiting to take their potshots and build themselves up at the expense of those who actually did the work is frustrating and disheartening. But teaching others to overcome those kinds of unthinking and immature critics is to know that you’re helping to train healthy and successful people- regardless of what they go on to create.
I have very, very little patience for snark. It’s cheap. It’s mean. And it betrays a shallow person who would rather tear other people, and their creations, down into smoking rubble than take the effort and risk of building something themselves. Those that have grown past this stage are the ones who go on to create worlds.