Amy Tan on praise and criticism

Just a little bit more from Amy Tan, from this interview with her. The topic is close to home for me as a writer, as for anybody who tries to be creative and thereby takes the risk of humiliation. (Isn’t that what creation is?)

As a writer or creative type, you need good and honest feedback to see whether you are/are not connecting with other minds. But it gets complicated:

“The question for me is, “How am I affected by praise?” I am more fearful of praise these days because I don’t want to depend upon it. In the world of book publishing, there is never a comfortable balance point where you either have enough praise or enough criticism. If you get this kind of review then you worry about what’s going to happen with the next. So there’s never any comfort point.
On the other hand, I welcome criticism when I’m writing my books. I want to become better and better as a writer. I go to a writer’s group every week. We read our work aloud. They’re old friends, and they treat me as an equal in the group, meaning they tear my stuff apart like anybody else’s.

4 thoughts on “Amy Tan on praise and criticism

  1. Writers receiving praise might be tempted to shape their future writings to their perceived tastes of the praisers, so to receive yet more praise.

    Thus, writers will begin imitating themselves, in the manner of the later Hemingway.

    Regarding blogs, the most “popular” ones seem the most vapid, or at least more vapid than the less “popular” ones. Is this because the blogger, craving to keep his/her growing readership, begins to compromise on quality to keep the folks logging in?

    I, for what it’s worth, have experienced inchoate feelings of vague anxiety whenever the sitemeters of my various blogs have shown more than the usual paltry number of clickers-on (this hasn’t happened often, by the way). I thus feel a burden on my shoulders.

    When the numbers return to barely-above-zero normality, I relax, happy that I can continue to write just what I like.

    As with me, could it be also for others?

    • Very perceptive point, Christopher. What you have in effect outlined is one variant of my Impostor thesis: As a blogger “succeeds” he feels pressure to pander to a lower denominator and becomes “vapid”, which is a form of failure.

      (Incidentally, in your case you also seem to be dividing your traffic among three different blogs. Perhaps intentionally.)

  2. Andreas,
    I am reading The Clouds
    Thanks for the suggestion. Well worth the time.

    Your words above to Christopher about “pandering to a lower denominator” were well chosen.

    How many variants are there to your Impostor thesis?

  3. Regarding the “variants”, Cheri: Actually, I should have said “mechanics” or something like that. What I’m playing with in the book is a sort of corollary to Kübler-Ross’s Grief cycle, but for success–ie, the various stages one goes through and can get stuck in. Depending on how you count, Kübler-Ross had five stages. I happen to have five as well….

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