Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Save the Snark, Please the Writer

I much prefer watching the Red Carpet coverage to watching the Oscars, which to me, are comprised of a bunch of self-congratulatory, long-winded speeches about “craft” and “the work” intermingled with some songs, some dancing, and a few movie clips. All of the talk about how hard acting is makes it seem like going to a far-off land and pretending to be someone else is really taxing. (In case I didn’t make it clear, I don’t think it is.) But I do love the red carpet and watching bone-thin actresses step from giant, gas-guzzling limousines and try to navigate their way down a carpet in shoes that are too high for any human to walk successfully in. Watching this year, however, I was struck by how much parading the red carpet is like writing.

I can imagine a young actress spending months before the show meeting with stylists, thinking about how her hair should look, dealing with the age-old debate of smoky eye versus dewy glow, and finally arriving at the big day where dress, hair, and make-up come together in a flawless combination of sophistication and age appropriateness. Then, she walks the red carpet, not knowing that behind the scenes, away from the place where someone asks her “who are you wearing?” there are a gaggle of D-listers sitting high atop the venue watching her every move and critiquing every decision she and her stylist have made. “Really, Vera Wang? She’s far too young for that!” or “I would have gone with the smoky eye” or “Her hair is flawless but much more appropriate for someone like Helen Mirren or Cate Blanchett.” It is something that happens to all of us at some point: we think we look great, but come to find out that maybe…not so much.

Fortunately for those of us outside of the business of show, we don’t have perennial harpy Joan Rivers (love her comedy, hate her fashion commentary) or cotton-candy-haired Kelly Osbourne dedicating an entire hour to our fashion missteps on a cable television show. Many times, they love an actress’ dress, proclaiming it a “red carpet favorite” but other times, they hate it, pointing out where she zigged when she should have zagged. I find myself either nodding along, agreeing with what they have to say, or disagreeing vociferously. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective. My “red carpet favorite” is someone else’s giant dud.

We don’t have Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne. What we do have as writers, however, are online reviews and the like, the ones that make us feel like an ingénue walking our first red carpet every time a book comes out, pointing out our flaws, writing missteps, and plot holes that we didn’t know even existed.

It got me thinking about the writing process--getting ready for the "read carpet" perhaps?--something not dissimilar to getting ready for the red carpet. Writers spend months, sometimes years, perfecting their novel, putting a stopper in plot holes that they see, developing characters with an eye to detail and verisimilitude. Our books are read by agents, then editors, then a production person, a copyeditor, and probably a proofreader just to make sure no one missed anything along the way, confirming that our prose hemline is the right length and that our double-stick tape is holding us in where we are supposed to be held in, and let out where we need to add more depth and volume. Yet there are still a niggling problem or two that might show up, despite everyone’s best efforts. Reviewers, like Joan Rivers, will point to those problems and expose them for all the world to see. Sometimes, someone just don’t like your book, the one you spent months working on and thinking about, losing sleep when you couldn’t resolve something in your head. Other times, someone will love it. It all depends.

Thinking about this made me reflect on my own thin-skinned nature and how reading one bad review can ruin my whole day. My venue is much smaller—no red carpet here when a book comes out—but I relate to the young woman getting out of a limo, putting herself and her fashion choices on display and getting a verbal knock out from someone high up in the stands, someone who has a little familiarity with the process but who is not subjected to the same kind of scrutiny. Thinking about it reminded me that I need to remember that the whole “subjectivity” rule in that one person’s favorite dress is another’s fashion mishap. We can’t all like the same things or share the same opinion. What fun would that be? But we all must remember that most of us take to a task wholeheartedly and with all good intentions so that if you don’t like something, save the snark. Who knows? Maybe it will be you up there on the red carpet one day—literally or figuratively—and wondering if the smoky eye (or the dead body in chapter 2) was really the right choice.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Is there a point where mean reviews jump the snark? I'm just sayin'. ;-) Now, more importantly, should I do the smoky eye in Chapter Sixteen?

  2. I agree with all you said, but did you realize that you made a snarky comment at the beginning of your post about acting not being hard work in your opinion. Now I agree it isn't digging ditches for a living, but it isn't as easy as you might thnk it is. I think the public has a lot of misconceptions about certain professions, acting and writing being two of them. People think all writers have the red carpet rolled out as if they were Stepehen King on a book tour, they think you make giant amounts of money off each book and spend your days in your pajamas writing when the mood strikes. They don't understand about deadlines, or having to work hard to promote yourself, or the exhaustion of a book tour.

    Acting isn't that different. It isn't all dress up and playing at being someone else. It is a lot of un-glamorous waiting, taking shots completely out of sequence, waiting on weather, dealing with difficult personalities and a whole lot of rejection. Most people never make enough money to support themselves doing it as a living, just like writers.

    I understand how a snarky review could be hurtful, it would hurt me, but maybe you should extend some of the no snark rule to what you are writing about others? I don't mean that as an attack, nearly to point out that that it is human nature to think we are the only ones who are hurt by what others say or think.

    I have a tag line after my signature, it was said by Philo of Alexandria and it goes "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle". I wish I could honestly say I always act with it in mind, but I fail more often than not. I try to remember it though because I want others to remember it when they deal with me.

    Thanks for letting me have my say and best of luck with the book!

  3. Maureen, this is what happens when you work in your attic for fifty hours a week like I do: you think are you are funnier than you are. Sorry I missed the mark on this; it was not my intention to denigrate anyone's profession and I apologize...Stiletto Gang is definitely a no-snark zone! Next time, I will keep the Golden Rule more firmly planted in my brain as it is something by which I try to live my life. Thanks for letting me know how you felt about the post. Maggie

  4. I'm not interested in the red carpet stuff at all and I love the Oscars. You've got to give the actors credit for not showing their true feelings when someone else wins--good acting. Haven't ever seen one of the losers burst into tears, look angry or hateful, they always look pleased for the other person--and I'm sure they are really disappointed.

  5. Maggie, great post! You are so right about the subjectivity. The morale is: you can't please everyone, so please yourself!

  6. Ha! I am an actress and I laughed at your small dig at the profession....perhaps because I took it as snarking on the trappings of the profession and not on the job itself. Great post! (Although, I can't help snarking when the dress is really, REALLY bad. I want to...but some of them really do make me wonder what they were thinking!!)

  7. Yes, the trappings, Joelle...that was what I was going for! Thank you for clarifying for me. (Again, let's remember where I spend the majority of my time. It's an attic. With a litter box as its only decoration.) Every job is hard. A lot of people think that since I work at home, I have loads of free time and can head off to Trader Joe's at a moment's notice. But being as what I do still qualifies as "work," people expect me to be at my desk during a certain part of the day so god forbid I am at TJ"s...I'm going to hear about it. Maggie

  8. Maggie,

    I am sorry I didn't get the humor, I usually get sarcasm because I am sarcastic myself. I started a new medication yesterday and I think it made me feel off and not be as with it as I usually am. I certainly didn't mean any offense by my comment. I adore your books and I hope I didn't offend you or make you feel uncomfortable. The one thing I don't like about this medium is not being able to hear inflection because it makes it hard to know when someone is joking.

    Thanks for your undemanding!

  9. Maureen, not a problem! I only felt uncomfortable because I would hate to think that I offended anyone with something I wrote. We're all good...I hope you're feeling better! Maggie