Alice Walker’s best tips for dealing with critics
By Carol Merchasin
The opportunity to sit down in a keynote conversation with the great Pulitzer Prize winning author, Alice Walker would be any writer’s dream. That dream was a reality for me recently at the San Miguel International Writer’s Conference, where in an extraordinary hour, Walker shared her wisdom and wit, and perhaps the greatest treasure of all, her advice on dealing with critics. Here are five insights she shared that every writer should take to heart.♥
1. Don’t read reviews
Walker admitted that now she can read reviews from 10 or 15 years ago but she would not do it while in the throes of creativity. She said, “The thing about writing…is that you yourself will figure it out, you yourself will grow into understanding…much more deeply than your critics.” And she bemoaned that with the accessibility of the Internet many people will criticize you while sitting at home eating a bagel, served up with bad language and poor spelling. “They are not really caring…about what you are trying to offer,” she said. Do not allow them to influence you.
2. Be completely dedicated
“I have taken on writing in a… priestess way,” said Walker. “I am completely dedicated to what I do.” And so she is, having published more than 37 books in as many genres as there are genres. Write with the unwavering belief of Martin Luther who declared, “Here I stand, I could do no other.” When you can “do no other,” your dedication becomes your armor against criticism.
3. Realize that you can bear it
“After…5 or 6 years of heavy criticism,” Walker explained, “you realize that you can bear it.” Do other things: Go to Bali, create your own publishing company, work with Steven Spielberg on a movie like The Color Purple. Ok, so maybe not all of us will work with Steven Spielberg, but life is long if we are lucky and criticism can push us to pursue many interests, it can inject different perspectives into our lives.
4. Don’t get stuck in other people’s opinions
You know what you’re doing, and unless your critics have a way to magically get inside your head, you shouldn’t worry too much about what they have to say. Of this Walker said, “How do they know what you are doing? What do they know? They don’t know what is driving you.”
5. Make your work an offering
Do your best even if every sentence is “not polished with a soft rag.” Make your work an offering. “You are the being who has been given this opportunity to send this out into the world. Be grateful for that and send it out there.”
Carol M. Merchasin is a lawyer, a former partner at a large law firm, and the author of This Is Mexico, a collection of essays on the mysterious workings of everyday life in Mexico. She fell in love with the country’s language, people, and culture during her first trip south in 1983, and she moved to San Miguel de Allende in 2005. She is a keen observer, an experienced researcher, and an enthusiastic student of Mexican culture.