We all have to deal with criticism, whether we asked for it or not. Writers and artists are in the especially tough and tender spot of needing critics in order to get their work noticed, which means they are inevitably courting heartbreak—when of course all they really want is praise and fame!
In his funny and insightful book, I Never Met A Story I Didn’t Like, singer-songwriter Todd Snider has a chapter about dealing with criticism called, “Come on in, the Water’s Freezing.” He begins by making a great distinction, “Young singers sometimes think it’s about making people like you, but it’s not. It’s about how many people you can get to decide whether or not they like you….You are not trying to be liked. You are trying to be judged, as often as you possibly can, so you can keep your refrigerator full.”
Then he lays out the hard truth, one of those truths that takes practice and maturity to embrace and which, consequently, most of us never embrace.
The truth of this is that you asked someone—everyone—to feel something. And if they do feel something, you do not get to control what that feeling is. Whether it’s a fan, your mom, a journalist, or the paper boy, you sing them your song and ask them to feel. Don’t be a dick and try to control what and how they feel after that. Do the world a favor and leave those people alone. They already did you the favor of listening to your whole fucking song. Now you want to tell them to do something else? Or you want to be angry because they did what you asked them to do? Jesus Christ.
Snider speaks from long, often bitter experience. Imagine how he felt when he saw a review of his first record, which began: “I hate Todd Snider.” A little later he points out a more familiar truth, and one slightly easier to embrace. “A bad review is a good review. The worst review they can give you is no review at all, and that’s the one they give almost everybody.”
Hat tip: Graham Gordy, for putting me onto Snider’s very entertaining book.