A critic is just a man in the crowd

It probably does.

Vanity publishing has much to recommend it. Not if you’re looking to eat regularly, or maintain the pretence that your output has any actual value other than virtual cat litter. But because it’s self centred and self censored, you can live off the occasional crumb of positivity, while entirely ignoring the somewhat larger biscuit of disinterest.

In a 1000 posts and 2000 comments, exactly nine people have had a whinge. Three of those were religious nut jobs who called down localised server smiting after a single article poked fun at an outmoded belief system. Four – and I kid you not because that count made me go back to check – took side splitting umbrage after I accidentally strayed into the fundermentalist universe where the plots of Star Trek apparently represent some people’s reality.

The final two were employees of Chiltern Railways who felt my lampooning of a service failing to meet the twin objectives of ‘timetables ‘ and ‘value‘ should – in the Starzi state their uniforms suggests utopia might be – result in being tied to the line and eviscerated by a passing train. My response, suggesting they’d probably want to pick a competitors track to make sure a train actually turned up, failed to defuse their angst.

I let those comment run because a) I’m waving my hands in the vanguard of free speech wherever it takes us and b) well it’s another hit isn’t it? And us self publishers are whores for that. It’s not like anyone is going to notice*

Hit whorage can be the only explanation – other than a bit of walking about cash** – to why the armies of bloggers crave recognition by a proper publication. Of those 1000 articles, 20 or so have tested the grammatical integrity of the hair pulling sub editors before passing into print where us literary wanabees are desperate to see our words.

Somehow your crap on a page is not the pidgen deposit others may see – it feels special and important. Back in the day when commuting to London appeared to be a great way to waste my life, I dodgem’d back from the loo only to find the man seated next to me reading an actual article I’d written. As he wasn’t tutting, ripping the page out or self flagellating with the entire magazine, I was close to venturing a semi apologetic waft that I was in fact the very man who’d penned the piece.

But I bottled it. In case he didn’t like it. A bloke I’d never met, whose values I didn’t know and whose prejudices might disgust me. Which didn’t stop me fearing his criticism of something that’d clearly exercised me and – false modesty aside – had been deemed good enough to fill pages of something others paid money for.

Years ago I wrote an article about the joy of the evening ride unwinding the angst and conflict of a difficult day. Buried in too many words was a throwaway comment on driving home in bare feet and a beer to the good. So it was surprising to receive a message, via the editor, from a very angry father castigating me because his mountain biking son had died in a drink driving accident. I wasn’t condoning it, I wasn’t even making a point either way, but that’s the thing when you throw stuff out there, you lose control of a narrative woven tight through pencil sucking blocks and much rewriting.

I had no idea how to respond so finally I just didn’t. Which makes the fact I can’t leave this alone pretty fucking amusing. The standard response from the wronged author is ‘show me what you’ve written, so I can come back and tell you how shit your work is. Especially your spelling. And lack of verb conjugation. Hah that’s showed you

Which is stupid because the critic doesn’t provide an alternative. It’d be nice if they offered something other than ‘well that’s a load of shit, what were you thinking?” but you don’t get to control the crowd. You stick it out there and for everyone who silently has a little nod and a chortle, they’re are 10 guys*** who hate it. Even those whose didn’t actually read it.

I try to be ambivalent to criticism, and that’s fine until some smug arsewipe  reads one sentence before informing the world there’s no point reading any more. Do me a fucking favour and plough through the rest of it. I know there’s a lot of stuff out there making me cringe, but there’s also quite a bit less representing the best words coming from this side of this keyboard.  I appreciate it’s  not E.M. Forster but it’s the best I can do. At least read the bloody thing before telling the world it’s killing innocent electrons.

In the stuff I do to pay the mortgage, no one behaves like this. We’ll have disagreements, conflicts and discussions on what good looks like. But in 30 years of actual paid work, no one has ever said ‘read the first line, shit, so that’s what you must be

I shouldn’t be so sensitive. Because I’m really not. People I’ve never met complaining my metaphorical constructs are too difficult to understand should make me feel quite a bit superior. But it doesn’t, I still feel the urge to explain why and – this is the heart of it – they are just wrong.

Many years ago the lesson of ‘every crowd is full of critics and there’s nothing you can do about that‘ was hard learned long before it was well understood. The stuff you write is part of you, so strangers poking it with a stick does hurt a bit. It shouldn’t but it does and this is why – even if I had more than a modicum of talent – I could never try and make real money out of it.

I appreciate this is a self referential polemic on why life isn’t fair, and how the big boys keep picking on me. That’s the joy of self publishing. And if you don’t agree, I’ll just delete your comment. Self esteem doesn’t have much truck with democracy.

* except my mum. Who worries about my mental state, while at the same time expressing her disappointment that her 47 year old son still feels the urge to use the word ‘fuck‘ quite so often.

** and this wasn’t the case ‘back in the day‘. Getting your name in print and the odd random tyre turning up for review was more than enough for the crud, sweat and fears of lobbing semi literate stuff into the 4th estate.

*** It’s always blokes. Right and Wrong. Black and White. Shades of grey are for those who don’t understand the world. Pub Bores on the internet.

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