Take six months, he said. Enroll in some grammar classes. Start fresh and relearn the craft. My fiction writing had creativity. And humor. And timing. What it didn't have yet, he said, was the technical chops to be taken seriously.
Yeah. That hurt.
This was an assessment I received years ago after a New York Times best-selling author critiqued a few pages from one of my initial manuscripts. The advice put me back five years in publishing my first fiction novel. It caused me to second guess every sentence I wrote. It made me paranoid about comma usage. It created doubt about my talent. It unearthed serious insecurities about my career choice.
Man, I owe him.
The war on words.
Telling the hard truth isn't popular these days. Nor is questioning certain sacred cows. There are people, ideas, even opinions in our culture that are not to be criticized or tested. Doing so is borderline illegal. Unless you're in Canada and question Islam, then there is no borderline. It's just plain illegal.
Welcome to the age of settled science, hate speech, and safe spaces: all terms used conveniently to silence all questions, doubt, and opposing opinions.
I don't know where this idea started that certain people, ideas, and beliefs couldn't be questioned. Who decided which ones get coddled? And which don't? What makes these people, ideas, and beliefs so fragile they can't survive doubt? And wouldn't treating them like a namby-pamby be considered soft criticism?
Someone needs to issue a public apology. Stat.
I don't think I grew up in a bubble, but maybe I did. In my formative years, the one thing you didn't want was to be treated like a child. Not even when you were one.
That meant accepting constructive criticism, instruction, even punishment and correction with emotional maturity. It also meant dealing with different viewpoints, not always getting your way, never being a sore loser, and, yes, having your ideas and beliefs questioned.
This was the normal path to adulthood.
And we're not talking Medieval Times here people. It was the 80s. Earning respect meant you had to have the gumption and strength to withstand criticism, even when it wasn't constructive.
Tough words are for the tough.
My author friend, the one with the harsh rebuke, actually paid me the ultimate compliment. He treated me like an equal.
He didn't pander, pat me consolingly on the head, and lie about keeping up the good work so I'd feel accepted.
Instead, he questioned me where I needed questioned and challenged me where I didn't know I needed challenged. His words weren't easy, but they were respectful. He knew my fortitude was, or would have to be, strong enough to withstand being questioned and criticized.
Appeasement would have been an insult; rebuke gave me dignity.
If I were a Muslim in Canada, I'd be so offended right now.