Throwback Thursday: Do You Judge Writers?

 

Throwback Thursday is a series where we take a look back at some of AWP’s most popular posts. Enjoy!

by Christopher Slater

 

Whenever a person reads what someone else has written, there is always an expected level of judgment. The reader is going to judge whether the topic of the writing is something that they are interested in. They will judge the writer’s ability to express themselves or to describe a situation, act, person, or object. The reader will ultimately judge whether the writer’s work brought them any satisfaction.

All of this is expected and probably required if writing is to have any meaning. However, do you ever judge the writer as a person based on the content or style of their writing?

I’ve never been the type of person that likes sacrificing realism for the sake of self-censorship. I oftentimes feel that such self-censorship robs the reader of a more insightful, fulfilling experience. That having been said, I have self-censored myself many times out of concern as to whether people will judge me based on what I write. In my case, it isn’t as much of a concern about people liking me as it is a concern for my career. In my profession, certain images are expected to be maintained.

This is not a construct of my imagination. I have seen a colleague receive a complaint because a family saw them at a local restaurant drinking a beer. Witnessing this left a lasting impression on me, and I have always been extremely careful of both content and topics in my writing.

This begs the question as to whether it is appropriate or accurate to judge a writer’s character based upon their writing. I used to enjoy the writing of one particular author, but as time went past, the books being published by that author revealed a definite political leaning. While I didn’t agree with that particular point of view, I still tried reading the books because of the joy I had gotten from reading their previous books.

Eventually, the constant political diatribes became too much and I stopped reading the newer books. I tried not to judge the author because of this, though. I thought that they might just be writing to a particular audience. When I found that author on social media, I happily followed them. It turned out that they were just as outspoken in person. So perhaps we should make certain inferences based on a writer’s work.

On the flip side of that, I can look at my own writing and know that it would be a incorrect for someone to judge me based on some of my characters or topics. In Pup: A Novel of Accidental Heroism I have some characters that aren’t very hospitable or friendly. Some  enjoy bullying the main character.

That is certainly not something that I support or think is necessary. Some characters in my writing can be foul-mouthed and crude. That isn’t what you would see from me in public. Still, I worry that some people might  get an image of me based on those characters, so I sometimes self-censor.

Do you judge writers based on their works? Have you ever read a story or novel and thought “I really don’t want to ever meet that person”? Perhaps for some, separating art and life isn’t easy. Some of those people are readers. Some of those people are writers. I guess, like so many other things in life, we can only decide with each individual situation.

 

 

 

Original article here.

Guest post contributed by Christopher Slater. Christopher is a Middle School History teacher in Tennessee. He’s also a husband, father, and author.

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6 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Do You Judge Writers?”

  1. Thought provoking, I can’t say I’ve judged, but I’ve definitely wondered what is going on in someone’s head when I have read some things. I guess Silence of the Lambs could be example. But then it’s all about ‘what if?’ isn’t it? 😀

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  2. I don’t think I’ve ever really judged a writer based on their writing. Everyone has an imagination- they are just using theirs!

    I know I was reading a piece on Wattpad that had multiple characters of all different races. They ended up having to put a disclaimer on the work because people were calling them racist for a specific character but I hadn’t thought that at all- the only thought I had was ‘maybe this writer is using a stereotype for a specific reason’- and it seems they were.

    I guess I’m just the kind of person who does best not to ‘judge a book from its cover’.

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  3. This is an interesting question. I often try to avoid knowing too much about the story, or the author, before reading the story, but this is an interesting counterpoint.

    Since most stories feature antagonists/villains, I think it would definitely be wrong to presume that every character is a reflection of the author, but if an author’s story as a whole propones or fails to denounce inappropriate behavior, I feel like that would be a different matter.

    I don’t think storytellers have an obligation to teach, but I do think it’s important to consider the implications of a story before sending it out into the world.

    But no matter what, I would try to keep an open mind. Stories, by definition, are very subjective, so I would do my best to remain open to the possibility that I misinterpreted the values they were proponing.

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  4. I think judgement and bias are in everyone but so is suspension of disbelief. When reading fiction we don’t expect an author who writes about cannibals to be writing from experience or preference. Nor would most people think that a book with dark themes reflects the authors true feelings etc. But authors are people and as people our beliefs, bias and politics permeate everything we do, mostly unintentionally. Like in the article I try to read work for the story and the character but sometimes recurring themes that suggest the writer’s politics or personal feelings become very prominent. This sometimes overshadows the work and I find it harder to suspend disbelief and immerse myself in the world of the novel. It’s not a bad thing, its just how it is. We’re all different and the beauty of writing is there is a voice for everyone. So long as ‘judgement’ is more about discernment of taste and not discrimination I think it’s fine.

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  5. I don’t read books I won’t enjoy, such as stories that contain abuse, torture, or other graphic violence. Although those kinds of books may appeal to some readers, the subject matter is not “my idea” of entertainment. No judgment on my part, though. Everyone has different writing/reading preferences.

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  6. Interesting. I have four authors at the moment whose work I particularly enjoy: John Banville, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Don Delillo. They all write in a similar style and yet now, having read many books by each of them, I can see different authorial personalities poking through.I think that if a writer is being honest, it is almost inevitable that something of him or herself will be reflected in the writing; not specifically in the characters created but in the way he or she tells the story. On the other hand, I think it is quite easy for a reader to separate an author from his or her characters. Even Shakespeare created some unsavoury characters in his plays but I’ve never heard anyone suggest that he should have edited them out to preserve his good name.

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