Thursday, October 21, 2010

Excellence and Elitism

Reading thuRsday

A hundred or so pages into a recent middle-grade fantasy I ran into a sentence that began, "Suddenly he slowly ..." I stopped short, wondering how the editor let that oxymoron get by. Then I caught myself. Aside from that construct (which was one of no more than five debatable craft points I'd noticed), the book was really quite good. So what had the editor done? Probably caught the dozen, or hundred, or thousand other things that I never saw because the issues were resolved.

In a note about finding the critique partners who could give you meaningful feedback, the author said something to the effect of, "So I wouldn't give my manuscript to someone who liked Twilight." My first reaction was, "Of course not. I'd want someone with more refined taste." Then I caught myself. If I want to reach the largest possible audience, I should try to understand how and why something that might have had a few technical flaws managed to strike a popular chord.

There's a fine line between excellence and elitism.

It's awfully easy, when you're trying to understand and follow every rule, to think less of other work that shows evidence of less care. It's particularly tempting to do so when that other work achieves greater success than your own. It's tempting to justify your situation by blaming the unwashed masses, who wouldn't know quality work if you hit them upside the head with it.

Excellence means striving to do your very best. Among other things, I am resolved to avoid using the phrase, "suddenly he slowly." But excellence does not mean dismissing everything that has a few flaws. So I am also resolved not to exclude people who have read Twilight from the pool of potential critical readers.

What have you done to stay on the right side of the line between excellence and elitism?

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /