In the movie, Midnight in Paris, Gil bumps into Ernest Hemingway during his existential adventure through Paris’ witching hour. Excited to meet on of his literary heroes, the following conversation happens.
Gil: I would like you to read my novel and get your opinion.
Ernest Hemingway: I hate it.
Gil: You haven’t even read it yet.
Ernest Hemingway: If it’s bad, I’ll hate it. If it’s good, then I’ll be envious and hate it even more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.
I thought this bit of conversation very interesting as it is something I have wondered about. Is it wise to have another author read your work and give you criticism on it?
On one hand it can be a good thing, because, as professionals in the field (especially if they are a best selling author and someone you look up to) their advice can be invaluable. They can often find plot holes, inconsistencies, and weak characters better than anyone.
However, can they truly enjoy your work? I guess it all depends on their relationship to you and your relative status in the publishing industry. If you are just some anonymous author they have pulled off the shelf at their local bookstore, then I suspect there would be less to say. Especially if you are a best seller. However, if you are on the same level or even below them (here’s looking at you, newbie) then I suspect Hemingway’s comment would stand more accurate. If its bad, they will hate it. If its good, they will hate it even more.
The other side to this coin is, would you rather have someone who is not a published author or editor read and criticize your work? Perhaps someone who knows enough about literature and writing to give you legitimate feedback, but whose own works will not be affected by your success or failure. I definitely think I would prefer that. Not your everyday, garden variety reader who reads for fun, or to escape, but someone who studies literature. Someone who knows what they are looking at and will give more than just their emotional opinion.
I’ve had several other writer/editor friends read my first book that is coming out and I think I can understand Hemingway’s words. Only two seemed to truly enjoy it…and I fear for the words of the others! I’m half tempted to say, “Its ok, you don’t have to read it!”
This same topic can be applied to many other artistic fields. What do you guys think?