Thursday, May 15, 2014

"I Am My Own Toughest Critic"

You hear people say that:

“I am my own toughest critic.” 

The question today, winding up my “Kritic’s Korner Trilogy” is…

Are they right?

The answer, of course, is…

How should I know?  I don’t know those people.  The people in that first sentence?  Those people don’t even exist.  I made them completely up.  They are not actual people.

Those hypothetical people are a literary construct, fabricated to jumpstart this hopefully interesting blog post.  Not that nobody says, “I am my own toughest (or “worst”) critic.  Some people definitely do.  Though I cannot specify the actual number.

Also, among those people who say “I am my own toughest critic”, a (currently, again, unspecified) number of them may indeed be their own toughest critics.  While others merely say they are their own toughest critic, gunning for (undeserved) accolades for their discipline and integrity.

What about you, Earlo?  Are you your own toughest critic?

Good question, Blue Writing Italics Person.  I may not know if other people are their own toughest critics.  But I must certainly know about myself. 

Let me take moment to think about that.  Am I my own toughest critic?



I am not my own toughest critic.

I like to imagine I am.  Because being your own toughest critic smacks of the loftiest and most honorable of intentions.  But my experience – which I am about you share with you – suggests evidentiarily otherwise.  (Okay, there’s an example right there.  I settled for the made up word “evidentiarily” rather than forcing myself to come up with an actual word.  For shame, for shame!)

Okay.  Examples of my not being my own toughest critic:

I once wrote and delivered half a dozen commentaries on NPR’s All Things Considered.  Then the person designated to select the commentaries was replaced by a person who rejected every one of my submissions.  So I gave up. 

Not long thereafter, a new NPR program was inaugurated in Los Angeles, and I decided to try out for that.

I submitted a story about my agent (posted in this space as “The World’s Greatest Agent”, who had accompanied me to a “pitch meeting” with the then president of NBC. 

I could tell he wasn’t interested in my idea.  But, I suppose, as a “consolation prize”, the man handed me three NBC beach towels, with a large NBC peacock painted on them. 

After the meeting, as I licked my wounds over not making the sale, my agent bemoaned the fact that I had received three NBC beach towels while he had not received any.

I tightened the anecdote up – shortening and sharpening it for delivery over the radio, and I submitted it to the show.  Not long thereafter, I received a call from the show’s producer, informing me that she was interested in my commentary, and asking me if would be interested in making an audition tape that she could later play for her superiors.  I replied, “Absolutely!”

A date was scheduled for the recording.  But before it arrived, the producer called back with some suggestions for improving the script.  I dutifully listened to her “notes”…

And they were wonderful. 

Are you surprised?  I sure was.

The producer was a demanding but magnificent copy editor, finding upgrading, previously undetectable (by me) cuts, clarifications and adjustments, her attention to detail as sharp and strategic as a surgeon’s scalpel.  (Her only deficiency was in comedy, where her instincts and experience led to proposed inappropriate deletions necessary for the comedic resolution.)

To that point, I had sincerely believed I was my own toughest critic.  But compared to that strict and uncompromising producer, I had been letting myself off easy.

I should already have known that.  Every day, writing these blog posts, I go through two, three, and, on rare occasions, four or more rewrites of the material, each revision involving fewer and fewer revisions.  Finally, I get to the point where the  voice representing “my own toughest critic” tells me, “That’s it.  That’s the best you can do.”

Not that that final draft is immaculate.  That has never ever happened. 

Implying that, were I to write one more draft, and whatever number of drafts after that, I would arrive at a version that requires no changes whatsoever. 

I might.  But I have never done that.  I produce that final version, which has the least number of revisions to date, and then,

I stop.

How do I know I am not my own toughest critic?

Because I could have been tougher.

One final observation.  And I leave it for last because it hurts the most.

There have been times when I have submitted and have had accepted certain political commentaries originally written for this blog, which I was paid actual money for.  A hundred dollars, I’ll have you know.  And every time I submitted one (to a now defunct website called politicsdaily), I found myself honing and tightening the version I had previously published in my blog, the version I had once thought was acceptable and I had stopped working on it.

Maybe because I was being paid, maybe because of the possibility of a larger readership, maybe because my work would be included amongst and compared with nationally recognized political commentators, and, most importantly perhaps, because there was an editorial “gatekeeper” who could accept or reject my submissions outright (as compared with my blog where, tough critic that I am, I accept everything)… I found previously unseen ways of improving my material.
I am not my own toughest critic, because I can unquestionably be tougher.

I am, however, my own biggest fan.

Especially when I’m singing.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Speaking as a former full-time musician, I will tell you that only a non-musician would say that (about singing). IME singers especially are very critical of their own singing, especially in recordings, which sound different from the way they hear themselves in their heads.


Frank said...

Since I've slowly turned into a mad and bitter Jay Sherman critic of my own comedic shortcomings I know what you mean about rewriting all too well, eh.