My moral qualms, let me show you them

This is kind of ironic, given that I posted a few months ago about Candace Sams and the nature of criticism, but I’m starting to feel pangs of guilt for writing about books.

For my day job, I get paid to offer my thoughts on daytime television, and there’s a certain amount of distance in doing so. Sure, I interact with many of the people whose work I’m critical of, but it’s not personal. It’s not like I socialize with General Hospital head writer Robert Guza, Jr. or Trevor St. John, who plays Todd Manning, a One Life to Live character I’m never shy about lambasting. But nowadays, I am getting drawn into a circle of romance writers. And anyone who’s hung out with a group of creative people, either on the Web or in real-life, can probably empathize with me on this: Tact becomes a key issue. There’s very much a Cult of Nice, where honesty is not the best policy.

And the more involved I get in the writing community, the more I’m going to have to bite my tongue, smile and nod…and fight off the guilt of “trashing” someone’s books. Of course, rationally I know that writing reviews isn’t really “trashing” anyone. It’s just an interpretation of a text, and not a moral judgment on that text’s creator. Hating The Notebook doesn’t mean I think Nicholas Sparks (or Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams) is a terrible person who should die in a fire. Loathing OLTL‘s Todd doesn’t mean I think his portrayer should be shoved off a cliff. It’s just an opinion about fiction, and, at its worst, an opinion about someone’s writing style.

However, the fact remains that what I do for WEEKLY is my job; this blog is my choice. So should I make another choice to sit on harsher thoughts in the hopes that I don’t make waves? Should I muzzle myself or be myself? Personally, I think that I have a responsibility to be as honest as I would be if I were writing for the magazine. If I’m a fair-weather critic, who’s going to be nice just because I made friends with the author or may meet them in the future, then I can’t really stand behind anything I write, can I? Everything I say becomes suspect, because I might be operating under a sort of emotional payola situation.

So what do you do in a situation like this? Has anyone faced a similar internal debate?

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6 thoughts on “My moral qualms, let me show you them

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever been in anything close to your situation, but I do agree that deliberately muzzling your opinions for fear of making waves is a slippery slope. Perhaps it should be more of a question of whether you should consider professional colleagues as ‘friends’.

    Obviously, negative reviews are never fun to read, but I think that if they don’t devolve into personal attacks, then you’re playing by the rules. Even though you’re not being paid for this particular blog, I think it still represents you as a professional writer. It’s a way of getting your work read by more people, and as such I think it should be treated in a similar fashion to what you do for SOW.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that I have no idea what I’m talking about. :)

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    • Thanks for the input, Carrie!

      I’m a classic worrier, so I’m sure that’s a huge part of where my questions are coming from. And I think I basically have to think of it like this: If I have no qualms about posting rave reviews of movies or books, then the same should go for opinions that aren’t as positive.

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  2. Mala, I’m always reminded of what my teachers used to tell me. Start off with something nice, say what you liked about a book, and then go into what you didn’t like. As long as the criticism is nuanced and not an all out “this book really sucks because” you should be fine. Just know that there will be people who no matter how nice you are, are still going to take exception.

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    • Thanks, Elizabeth. I tend to generally follow that “say something nice and then…” approach. And being in my current industry you’d think I’d be used to folks taking exception to criticism…but it’s always a bit of a minefield, no matter what, I suppose.

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  3. Mala, I can totally empathize. My relationship with GL changed when I went to the studio and met actors, writers and Ellen Wheeler.

    It didn’t soften me, and I was still able to be critical (though I was very laudatory of the show after that, as it was the great Phillip returns/Coop dies stories that played out last year).

    But it did make me think twice about HOW I was going to say something. It cured me of that whole, “The writers are trying to kill this show!” attitude. It actually improved my writing, I think, because I try to look at all sides of why something is happening (or not happening).

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    • Becoming an editor was the best thing that could have ever happened to my writing. It’s amazing how I was able to step back and reassess my style and delivery.

      And, yeah, certainly meeting people offers a new perspective on how to critique their work. I’d like to think that while I may be harsh sometimes, it comes across as coming from a place of love and respect for the genre. Because, warts and all, I love romance and storytelling…be it on a soap or in novel form. But the fact that one is still being critical of the work of *people* is something we all have to bear in mind. It’s not a faceless, monolithic entity, but someone with feelings and their own love for what they’re doing.

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