In the interest of following the story and putting a wrap on it, Morrissey has reacted to winning Britain’s Bad Sex Award for 2015 by calling the prize, among other things, one of life’s “repulsive horrors.”
Rowan Somerville, a previous winner from 2010, was also quoted in the article, saying something quite sober and truthful: it takes “years to write a novel,” he said, “and, if you’re serious about what you do, quite a lot of sacrifice.”
All the more reason to keep both a sense of perspective and a sense of humor about it. None of us gets a pass or a stamp of approval simply because we know how to string a few words together at a keyboard. I wasn’t altogether kidding a few days ago when I wrote that Morrissey should share his prize with his editor, because that man or woman–someone–should have told him how comically bad his writing was, and pruned it.
This is what editors are for, and real writers use them. Robert Caro, one of the most careful, indefatigable non-fiction writers we’ve ever had in this country had Robert Gottlieb as his editor. The two of them sat in Gottlieb’s office, reading proofs and “battling over semicolons” as Caro was producing the early volumes of his biography of Lyndon Johnson. He won both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for Master of the Senate. One of the greatest favors any writer has ever received was the editor’s suggestion to Harper Lee to re-cast Scout Finch as a little girl instead of an adult in To Kill A Mockingbird. That change, as difficult as it was for Lee, made all the difference.
Yes, we care about our work and, yes, criticism of it hurts, but words are a forest. Writers can get lost in them. We need others to help us cut through the undergrowth and, when necessary, show us where the path out of the forest really lies. Being thin-skinned about receiving criticism or accepting help does not ever eliminate the necessity of that help.