A week ago Wednesday I wrote here about why I wouldn't make my negative opinions of work by living writers public. Among the thoughtful responses was one by Anthony Panegyres, who wrote:
Hi Michael, I think that your thoughts would be invaluable for both writers who wish to improve their craft as well as readers who value your opinion. As you write not only in the spec-fic field but also about it too (and do it all extremely well) you shouldn't feel as though you're 'mocking' anybody when giving honest feedback - it's not a personal affront (although I do understand the emotional attachment issues, which you've alluded to). Readers seek educated opinions from writers they admire like yourself. Writers may also be thicker skinned than you think - many may want honest feedback so that they, in turn, can fine tune their work.
These are all intelligent statements. And yet. As a writer myself, and a friend of many writers, I can assure you it is an extremely rare thing for one of us to seek out negative judgments of our work in the hope that they might be useful. Unsolicited, they are even less welcome. An unsolicited negative judgment from somebody we may happen to respect can be crushing. As a group, we are not known for our rock-solid self-confidence.
It is hard to properly report the magnitude of the insecurity of writers. But I know of an incident which can give you some idea. It goes as follows:
There was a writer – I’ll withhold his name – who died and was transported to Heaven. Finding himself standing before the throne of the Almighty, he fell to his knees in a rapture and cried:
“Lord! I read your New Testament and it changed my life! Everything I did was based on that book. It was the best thing ever written – better, even than the Old Testament!”
Then did the Lord God Jehovah start to his feet in a rage. Thunder and lightning played about his face and the universe shook as he cried:
“And what was wrong with my first book?”
True story. I knew the people involved.