Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Cheering Each Other On

"When someone does something good, applaud!" said Samuel Goldwyn. "You will make two people happy."

The past few years in the science fiction and fantasy communities (no slight to you horror fans, you can have your share) have been rife with insults, denigration of one another's work, and -- not to put too fine a point on it -- downright nastiness. More than once I have wondered why folks who think that tearing down someone else's book will somehow make theirs better. This is not to say there is no place for literary criticism or personal taste. Not every book that's published qualifies as great literature. I've done my share of scratching my head, clueless as to why a book that did nothing for me has made best seller lists. And there are authors I won't read because I find their public statements, actions, or subtext abhorrent. (When Mein Kampf goes off copyright anon, I doubt I'll purchase a copy.) So the discourse about negative reactions to authors and specific books is complex.

I find the reverse to be quite simple. If I enjoyed a book, I like to praise it. Or a movie, or a piece of music, or a painting, or a dance, or any of the thousand other things that light up my day. It might not be perfect, but a thing doesn't have to be flawless to be enjoyable. When I share my private delight with others, I find it makes me even happier. If the other person also loved whatever it is I'm applauding, that's even better. Curious, how human nature works. We all smile together. Our hearts lift.

And of course, whoever created the thing I'm applauding is happy, too. I've been on both sides -- giving and getting applause. How great is that?

The thing about writing is that so much of it is done in solitude, where our fears and self-doubts multiply in the dark. No matter how thick-skinned we tell ourselves we are, we are not immune to gloom. So instead of looking at another writer's success and thinking, "I suck, I'll never be that good" or "There goes my readership" (or reeling under a review or a rejection letter that compared my work unfavorably to a piece by A Bigger Name -- don't laugh, both have happened to me), I remind myself that no matter who wrote it, the world is a better place with this story in it. I'm a happier reader for having found it. Some day, I'll write a story that makes other people this happy. The other author's success shows me that mine is possible. It gives me hope, as well as something to aim for.

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