One of the first writing reviews I ever received told me that my piece was not to the reviewer’s taste. “I don’t like this kind of thing,” the reviewer stated, then proceeded to use other words, like “insipid,” “boring,” and “shallow.” It wasn’t a good review. Those words hurt. And for quite a long while after reading them, I couldn’t write.
I sat around a table with ten people I’d never met before, listening to a young man haltingly explain the synopsis of a novel he was hoping to write. I listened politely, but I didn’t make eye contact with him or with anyone else around the table, because I didn’t want anyone to know what I was thinking: “insipid,” “boring,” and “shallow.” What he was proposing to write did not sound at all interesting to me. It sounded like nothing I would ever want to read, and if I had chanced on a paragraph or two, I would have put the book down and gone looking for something else. But when he finished, everyone else had interesting ideas that made me think of his story in a different light. I even found myself contributing ideas of my own.
I came to see that the story that he was hoping to tell was not necessarily going to end up the way I saw it, and was able to admit to myself that it might eventually become something that I would like to read.
I suppose we all have different tastes.
Maybe I should finally forgive that reviewer for his or her own opinion, and the fact that they probably never thought that their precise words would get back to me. In the same way, I would hope that my first reaction would not tarnish a young writer’s enthusiasm for his own work. I would not want him to be unable to write after hearing my unfiltered opinion of his ideas.
And just because I don’t think I’ll like it doesn’t mean the other ten people around the table won’t.