The Creative Friends Problem

The Creative Friends Problem

Image by Elisa from Pixabay

Good afterevenmorn!

In a rather dangerous pastime, I’ve been thinking. I’m a writer, you see (like I don’t mention that as much as possible. How insufferable. Anyway…), and as a writer, I’ve made a good many friends who are also writers. We attend conventions together, we join writing groups, or go out for coffee and chat. In fact, I’m quite certain that the majority of my friends are creatives of one sort or another, and the vast majority of those are fellow writers.

Which, frankly, is fantastic.

It’s so wonderful being around folks who know intimately the joys of creation, and the struggles associated with trying to make something of that creative impulse. When I grumble about how hard it is to find a readership, or how much I hate having to spend 40+ hours a week in front of a computer, not writing. They get it. They understand in ways that other people simply cannot.

I adore my friends.

But it does present something of a problem as someone who is creative surrounded by creatives; and that has to do with reviews. I love seeing my creative friends succeed. I want to be part of that story of success by helping to promote my friend’s work. Part of that promotion is offering reviews. Not a problem, right?

Well… sometimes it is.

First, not every story or piece of art they create is for you. It might be that they write in a genre you are entirely ambivalent about, or their artwork is fine… but nothing you yourself would put up in your home. What then? Well, the easiest thing to do is not review that particular book or art piece, but do repost all their ads and updates on the thing. Just because something isn’t for you doesn’t meant that it’s objectively bad. It will be loved by someone.

Image by Sajjad Saju from Pixabay

Now, I run a very casual book club (find me on StoryGraph and join my monthly read-alongs!). As part of that, I do want to read books by my friends in an effort to help them out. Granted, not too many people follow me on any of my socials, or on StoryGraph, so my reach and whatever help I can provide is extremely limited, but I still want to do my part.

Part of my concern with doing something like this is that I might read something written by someone I know, or  someone I really like on a personal level, and not really like what I read. In this case, I can’t really avoid talking about the thing that wasn’t for me. It’s the monthly pick for the book club. What then? What happens in that case?

On a personal level, I know just how much work goes into creating a work of fiction, and how much it can hurt when the people you love and respect don’t really like it, and how wonderful it feels when the people you love and care about really adore what you’ve created. So the guilt I feel about talking about things I don’t like is very, very real. It worries me that I’ll hurt my friends when I do things publicly like this.

Image by Mystic Art Design from Pixabay

It’s quite the conundrum. I’m perpetually caught between wanting to help get the word out about my incredibly creative friends and the stuff they create, and the fear that some of it just isn’t for me and I will be ambivalent about it at best. I have a terrible habit of being horribly blunt. It’s never my intention to be rude, but I was raised in a place where honesty was elevated above hurt feelings (Australia), and it’s still something of an adjustment for me in the current place I reside (Canada). I got in so much trouble my first couple of years here. But I digress.

Reviews are the spaces for readers, and authors would do well to stay away. But as I’m also a writer, I’m very aware of all the feelings involved and it makes things complicated. As a reader, I desperately need the space to talk about books freely and without constraint. As a writer and friend, I’m perpetually afraid of upsetting my wonderful friends if (admittedly a big ‘if.’ They’re pretty dang awesome, if I say so myself) I really don’t like their stuff.

I currently handle it by making a note before the reviews of books by friends. It usually notes that they are the work of personal friends, and whether or not I generally like the genre of the book in question. That way, folks can evaluate for themselves whether or not to trust my review. And then I’m honest about what I liked and didn’t like in the book and I hope that my friends will forgive me if I’m not super enthused.

But I’m always worried. It’s the only thing about being a creative with friends in the same field that is even remotely close to a downside. It’s mostly just awesomeness. Get thyself some creative friends. We’re weird. But a good weird.

Anyway, is review anxiety something that you deal with? If so, how do you work with it? I could use some advice. Like I said, I tend to be a little too forthright for North American sensibilities. I’m working on it.

When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favorite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, and cuddling her cat. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, and cuddling a furry murderer. Her most recent titles include Daughters of BritainSkylark and Human.

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K. Jespersen

What a blessing to be so ensconced in a gathered creative community! Maintaining that throughout years is an effort, so many kudos to you.

Review anxiety is real; seemingly even more so when you are a public face for creative output. Not sure how well this advice might help, but I learned two things when I was a teen that abolished the version I had:

1. One’s obligation is to the creator, not the creation. — There’s an axiom in Christianity that goes, “Love the sinner, not the sin.” There are lots of ways to unpack it, including things like people are not their actions, we all have things people love us in spite of, etc., but from the angle of creativity, it means that we are allowed to enjoy a person without having to enjoy the things they do, including the art or literature the person creates. That person is allowed to enjoy us while being puzzled or annoyed that we don’t like his or her work. Someone who requires us to love his or her work as a proof of loving him or her is attempting to exercise an unreasonable power over us. How many times have we been warned against someone who says, “If you really loved me, you would [X]”? A person who does not trust us to still value him or her when not particularly liking his or her work is not actually a friend. (Since your friends “are pretty awesome,” it sounds like they’re the types to trust you, so trust them to respect you. Renew your permission to yourself to love the creator without having to love the creation.)

2. Be very clear about what people can expect. — I’m a critiquer. When I review something, I *always* follow the pattern [positive aspect] [aspect that needs improvement or that doesn’t appeal to me] [positive aspect]. I tell people so. If they ask me for a review, I tell them what I do, then do it, then tell them what I did. Nine times out of ten, the response is, “Well, I’m not sure I liked hearing that, but I’m glad it was you that told me, rather than a lot of people being mean.” The tenth response is usually, “Wow! Thanks for the balanced review! Now anyone who reads it knows what to expect.” Anyone in my friend group or among my peers who needs to be coddled doesn’t come to me, because I am explicit about what I do, and the few who earn a critique that has nothing but positive comments wear it like a badge of honor. Setting expectations prior to writing a review tends to avoid a lot of heartache.

…wish there was some other advice I could give. Sorry.

Charles Gramlich

yes, yes, yes. I struggle with this kind of thing all the time.

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