The Jacqueline Howett Guide to Becoming a Better Buzzard

A week or so back (I honestly can’t remember; time’s fun when you’re having flies) everyone, and I mean everyone in the writing community was talking about Jacqueline Howett and her angry tirade on the Books and Pals Blog review of her book The Greek Seaman (no I’m not doing any puns. All the good ones have been used up anyway.)

It was like the rotting corpse of some animal bringing the buzzards far and wide to feast upon its stinking goodness. And before you go off mad, I’m one of those buzzards too. It’s not an insult. They’re an important necessary part of our ecological system. Fascinating creatures. For instance, did you know that the buzzard’s head lacks feathers because-

[Tangent Alert! Tangent Alert! Tangent Alert!]

Okay, okay! Keep your britches on! Anyway. The Great Jacqueline Howett Meltdown got me to thinking: Jacqueline Howett is a person.

Which hopefully everyone knows. I mean no one thinks she’s some kind of alien robot sent to sow discord on the internet or anything like that. But sometimes even though we know we don’t really know.

There’s something about distance that keeps us from seeing other people as real people. I still remember the moment when as a child we were driving down the road and I looked out at all the other cars and realized that each and every one of those people had a life every bit as real and full and complex as mine. But I also realized it was easy for us to ignore that fact because each of us was encapsulated in our own little climate controlled pod on wheels with the radio on, drowning out the our thoughts, letting us think we were the only real people in the world.

The internet is a lot like that too. Each of us sitting here at our own glowing screen interacting with others, but not really grasping the fullness of the truth that all those other words represent living, breathing, hoping individuals just like us.

I’m not here to defend Ms. Howett. I’m just here to remind you that she’s a person. She is more than the sum of her words.

Writing a book, even a bad one full of mistakes and errors is a lot of work. If you don’t believe me you should try it some time. And especially that first book…that sucker is like pulling teeth and giving birth at the same time.

Worst. Dentist appointment. Ever.

And when you’re finally done you print it all out and look at it in all of its grandeur and you think, “This is possibly the greatest thing I have ever done.” And you know what? For most of it, it probably is the greatest thing we’ve ever done.

And then someone comes along and shoots it full of holes.

It’s easy to make that person into the enemy. Because that criticism can hurt, especially at first. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or not. It doesn’t matter if the person giving the criticism is trying to help. It still takes a knife and shoves it right through our ego.

Like I said already, I’m not here to defend Ms. Howett. What she did was wrong on any number of levels.

But the next time something like this happens, think before you flame. Remember that the one on the other end of your criticism is a person too. It doesn’t mean you have to censor yourself. But maybe stop and think: “Would I be willing to say this to their face?”

Always remember to “speak the truth in love.”

9 responses to “The Jacqueline Howett Guide to Becoming a Better Buzzard

  1. How did you get that picture of my ex for this post ?

  2. I’m not defending Ms. Howett, but the honest fact is that few of us on the planet are above such behavior 100% of the time, at least not until we are over 40. I can only hope for this woman that she has thyroid issues that made her temporarily insane and that can be easily adjusted. As for those who piled on? That was pretty scary to watch.

    It is also an honest fact that I thank God every day that the internet was not available for me to destroy myself with in my 20s. Yet another excellent post from the talented and substantive Albert Berg.

  3. This topic came up in my morning pages today. I was telling myself that if I want to be a published writer (you know, get a platform and all that) I have to steel myself to put myself on display, ready to be ridiculed and judged, ready to be slammed and shamed, ready to have my life torn apart, closely examined, and weighed– harshly. Now, that may be a little bit extreme, but it’s not, in reality, far off base. If I ever get published, most people won’t know or care who I am. But there will be people who will dig out all my dirty little secrets, all the proverbial skeletons in my closet, and will relish the opportunity to tear me apart with their teeth. People are mean. The anonymity of the internet lowers their inhibitions of meanness. The internet is the perfect vehicle for meanness because there is little to no fallout from that meanness. I shied away from having a blog for years because I didn’t need anyone (else) being mean to me. Even now my blog is done anonymously. Yes, I am afraid of people’s meanness. I constantly read how writers have to be thick skinned, ready to absorb the blow to the ego, when it comes to their writing. When it comes to the instant gratification of belittling and meanly criticizing on the internet there’s a whole other level of thick-skinnedness required.

    Unfortunately, people need to be reminded that other people are people, that the anonymity of the internet is not a license to be mean. Great post today Albert.

  4. Yes, Howett is a person. Yes, her meltdown was immature and unprofessional. But it was herself that she tore down, not anybody else. Who knows what else she had going on in her life? Not that extenuating circumstances are excuses for bad behavior, but I thought the meltdown was “cheered on” as it was happening. Obviously she was unstable, and people lined up with beer and popcorn and threw rotten tomatoes. As if there aren’t enough reality shows on TV. She’s trying to be a successful author, just like many of us who are reading about her breakdown. I hope she recovers.

    @Piper “I thank God every day that the internet was not available for me to destroy myself with in my 20s” I *so* hear you on this one! LOL

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  7. I don’t even know Jacqueline Howett nor do I pay attention on her tirade but I’ve heard about it. I think that we should each have a pass for bad behavior. We’ve behaved badly ourselves at one time or another. If I were to do something like that, I’d like to be forgiven so I’ll let it slide.

  8. I must admit I hightailed it over to look at the the….uh…event when I heard about it. I felt sad for the author. As CM pointed out, who knows what else was going on in her life? And criticism can hurt…especially if your friends and family have been super enthusiastic about your work…either because they don’t see the mistakes or they love you and are blowing sunshine because they think it’s the right thing to do. Of course, there’s no excuse for what happened and how the author acted but I couldn’t bring myself to point my finger at her. I took it as a lesson: Find critique partners that will really critique as opposed to most of our family and friends who will just be dazzled that we wrote something besides the grocery list; be prepared for the inevitable bad review because it’s bound to happen at some point; and learn how to bite my tongue when I really want to respond on impulse.

    And the other big lesson is definitely that criticism must be done carefully. Not blowing sunshine but not ripping others down either.


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