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Monday, September 23, 2013

Please Don't Criticize Michael Palin

On November 9, 1981, Michael Palin records in his diary:

"The Missionary: Mark II" arrives from the typist's, and I fall on it and read it through eagerly.  It reads very well and I'm happy with the last-minute cuts and readjustments.  And I laughed more, much more, than at Mk 1.

Sent the script round by cabs to Neville [the producer] and Richard L [the slated director].  Watch some television.  Can't keep my mind on my writing.  I'm half hoping the phone will ring before I go to bed and bring some breathless enthusiasm from one or another of them for the new script.  This is what I need now.

Ironically, the phone rings a few hours later, and he learns from the distribution company that "Time Bandits," the film over which he and Terry Gilliam worked so hard (and agonized so much) has taken in more during its first three days in America than any film the company previously handled.  

I'd still rather have had a phone call about The Missionary, he records.

The following morning, Neville Thompson calls.  

"My heart sinks utterly as he tells me that he wants to see the original script, because he feels I've lost a lot in the rewrites.  I'm sure he doesn't realize what a dashing blow this is after two months' rewriting. Anything but wild enthusiasm is a dashing blow!"

At the 2006 World Fantasy Convention, a celebrated Fantasy author said during a panel discussion that he hated it when a reader told him what he disliked about one of his stories.  Even if the reader generally liked it, but had a few small criticisms, he didn't want to hear them.  The author simply preferred to hear, "I enjoyed reading it," and nothing else about the story.  I can certainly understand where that author was coming from.  An author tries, as best he (or she) can, to translate the vision or idea in his head into words.  This is not easy, and no matter how pleased he is with the end result, all art is subjective, and thus, not all of his readers will feel the same way about his efforts.  

At the same convention (one which, by the way, celebrated the centenary of Robert E. Howard's birth), I overheard another author telling someone how members of her publishing house had sat her down in their suite, and then raked her manuscript over the coals for two hours. It must have seemed as if nothing she had written was good enough. From what little I heard, it sounded like a pretty terrible experience. When the book was finally published, she thanked one member of the publishing house in her Acknowledgements for giving her the idea of rewriting the novel from the perspective of one particular character. Having read the novel, I can attest that I enjoyed it.  As I never read the earlier draft, I cannot compare the two versions.  However, I can imagine how difficult it must have been for her to rewrite the manuscript, and how long that process must have taken her.

One thing seems certain as I look (with hopeful eyes) toward eventual publication: people will criticize my work.  Some will criticize the story before it reaches its final form, and others (readers and reviewers) will criticize it once it goes on sale.  It will be up to me to not just accept the fact that someone is criticizing my efforts, but also to determine if I can use their ideas to improve my current or future stories.  I suppose that if people have taken the time to read my story, I should be willing to hear their reactions to it.  But, as the celebrated Fantasy author said in 2006, and as Michael Palin records in 1981, I'm sure there will be times when I will feel as if I really need to just get a verbal pat on the back, and nothing else.

Artists are fragile.  Handle with care.

And whatever you do, please don't criticize Michael Palin.  He's awesome!

Dragon Dave

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