On writing, and responding to your critics

Gamasutra’s Top 20 Game Writers list just came out, and while I think it’s a pretty good list (happy that Chris Avellone is in it, unhappy that Ragnar Tornquist isn’t), I’m more amused with the user comments on the page. Some people disagreed with the list, and posted so; and then the writers themselves argued back. While the comments are all tasteful and smart, you could tell some people just couldn’t resist.

I’m a firm believer that one should never respond to your critics. I grew up in a house of writers – my dad is a famous writer (and critic, too!), and while my mom isn’t a writer by profession, she used to write a weekly column and also contributed a great chapter in the book “The Writer’s Wives”. (If you ever want to know what it’s like to live with a writer, that book is for you).

When I was in high school, I watched my dad argue on the phone with a famous local film director. Β The director’s really important film just came out, but a critic in the paper reviewed it as not being all that. The director responded by writing a rebuttal and sending it to the paper, which they published, of course.

I remember my dad telling the film director, clearly, “You should never respond to your critics.” That piece of advice stuck with me as I grew up. It’s counter-intuitive. It was either my mom or my dad who told me that writers are inherently arrogant – you HAVE to believe you’re right, in order to tell the whole world that you are. So when someone disagrees with you, it’s extremely difficult not to get a word in edgewise. Thankfully I’ve never been in the spotlight enough to warrant my very own critic – but I remember when Anito: Defend A Land Enraged came out, people were either praising us about the story or shooting it down. You really didn’t know whom to listen to, whom to believe.

I wonder if things would be better if people just didn’t respond to their critics. Is it possible to live in a world where your work speaks for itself?

In other news, Syd Field is holding a two-day Screenwriting Masterclass in Manila on March 14 to 15. I’m totally psyched. It was Syd Field’s Screenplay that I read and studied for fun when I was in high school, when I dreamt of writing for film; I still refer to story or film events as Plot Points 1 and 2. I hope I can get a slot!

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5 thoughts on “On writing, and responding to your critics

  1. This is a very touchy topic I’m sure, and I can only share my personal feelings about this.

    I’m no famous writer, and the one time I gathered up enough steam to write about a topic was my piracy piece on the escapist, where after the first few comments I tried to stop myself, but I eventually devolved into internet fisticuffs with the commenters.

    I think that as person, and not necessarily as a writer, I’m interested in intelligent discussion such that when I put out something into the world I’m not necessarily proclaiming that I’m right, but that I have a point to make, an argument to add to the discussion. I can take harsh criticism (indeed, I credit some of my friends for tearing down my sensitive shell and making me the asshole that I am), but what I find hard to tolerate is stupid, inbred opinions. Opinions which have no merit and add nothing to the general discussion, and whose only aim is to propagate a notion that they believe in. I find this infuriating and almost impossible to resist. I try to use reason in my comments back but eventually I always come back to this one conclusion:

    PEOPLE JUST WANT THEIR OPINIONS OUT THERE.

    It has nothing to do with your writing. It has nothing to do with the quality of your work, or the research you may have done, or how long you put into something. People are just fame-whores and they want to be heard no matter what. So yes, it’s best to just let it go, but not from a “I’m better than you haha” standpoint but just from a sense of self preservation. Any writer who truly attempts to engage all his critics in dialogue will be driven insane.

  2. moongirl says:

    Ryan has forbidden me to reply to his comment, in order to prove my argument that “one should not respond to your critics”; except I don’t think he’s criticizing me at all, and find nothing wrong with what he said – so does that mean I can’t respond to the “good” comments? πŸ˜‰

    But it’s true, though – everyone has something to say. And it’s the silly stuff that you usually can’t resist. A friend of mine reads Slashdot more for the comment wars than anything else. Why do people keep giving in to these things, instead of just rolling their eyes and ignoring them?

  3. 1. It’s funny, and some people get a kick out of being the instigators in a flame war and watching the fun from afar. In gaming it’s called “griefing”.

    2. Some people just hate being misunderstood. HATE IT. Guess who falls under that category?

  4. The pervasiveness of combative commentary on forums and such irks me too sometimes, even if it’s about topics that I don’t really care about. I agree with Ryan that many people just want their opinions out there, as a “look at me, I’m smart too” statement. There are a lot of sensible, intelligent people with worthwhile opinions out there. But as averages go, there are also people who are exactly the opposite. And sadly, the latter group has just as much access to the Internet as the former.

    I think a sense of humor is all that will save human culture from eventual self-annihilation due to flame wars. πŸ˜€

    And Luns, as for responding to ‘good’ comments, you can think of it this way: comments like those expound on the discussion instead of criticizing it, and by providing your own input after, you’re contributing to the healthy conversation. πŸ˜‰

  5. moongirl says:

    Dante: “I think a sense of humor is all that will save human culture from eventual self-annihilation due to flame wars.” -> YES. πŸ˜€

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