As every author knows, learning to get critiqued and getting used to reading bad reviews is all part of the job description. Developing a thick skin (and a good sense of humor) is probably one of the best things a writer can do for himself or herself.
I do believe writers can benefit from constructive criticism. After all, if everyone praises your work, you won’t grow much as an author.
But there’s another type of sweeping criticism that’s simply not helpful. For me, it falls under the category of the old adage your mom taught you “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anyone, …”
A classic example for me includes Gore Vidal’s declaration that “… the three most dispiriting words in the English language are Joyce Carol Oates.”
Reading those types of criticism makes me cringe and feel sorry for the author who pronounced them and wonder about his or her pettiness. It also causes me to reevaluate the author who hurled the insult – I may have enjoyed his work, but was it truly such a masterpiece?
That said, it doesn’t make it any less amusing to read the insults that have made it to the annals of history. The flavorwire.com site has compiled an amusing collection of the 30 harshest author on author insults .
In this list, an author I kind-of-like (Mark Twain) skewers an author I truly love (Jane Austen), saying “… Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig [Austen] up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”
See what I mean about cringing for the one hurling the insult?
Nevertheless, what goes around, comes around. William Faulkner, another author I love, had pretty harsh words to describe Mark Twain “A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”
What do you think, writers? Could these authors have internalized a bit more diplomacy in discussing their peers? Or is it all part of their oversized personalities? Do you have any favorite author-on-author insults? Or have you received particularly harsh comments that goes beyond literary criticism?