I would suggest the approach I describe is the unromantic one. The romantic notion is there are a million hidden geniuses out there who would’ve outflowered Shakespeare if only someone had given them a kind word. I’m not suggesting needless cruelty, & I am possibly romanticizing by assuming the critic in question knows the difference between bad writing & a radical but fruitful shift in approach, but there really is a difference between people who want to write & people who want to be writers. The latter are the ones who stop. It’s not that hard to tell bad writing, & even good writers are more than capable of it. Everyone gets feedback, & the only feedback that’s any good for you is honest feedback, positive or negative. You’re not under any obligation to accept any of it, but a writer doing something really wrong (by which I don’t mean wrong in a “mainstream writing” sense, but wrong in that it undercuts their purpose) will not be helped by someone being “nice” about the work. Being negative & being cruel are not the same thing, but if you can’t take being negative you’re probably better off doing something else anyway, because negative is largely what the world at large rains down on writers. Unless they happen to be at the rarefied heights where the slightest criticism unleashes a torrent of virulent defenders. And y’know what? That’s often not that good for one’s writing either.
It’s a strange, strange business.
Frankly, no matter how good your writing is, approbation is usually so hard to come by that anyone who writes for approbation is an idiot.
As for Hanks, Noah, we began this discussion on email. Leaving aside reservations about “outsider art” (having watched its inception/invention contemporaneously, it always struck me as more politically than artistically motivation, since it played on many political themes of the day) I question whether Hanks fits the category. Just because he was largely unknown to our generations doesn’t make him an outsider. A guy who worked steadily for several years (I’ve no idea of the circumstances of his departure from the field) at a circulation considerably larger than any I’ve ever enjoyed, in framework (artistically his style isn’t even all that different, though I’m more than happy to accept his art is better – prettier, certainly – than many of his contemporaries) essentially identical to what surrounded him. But it’s never been his art I quibbled with. It’s his writing that’s the house of cards. Yes, I understand the auteurial approach to Hanks’ work, & that’s fine, but imagine Hanks’ stories if they were drawn by, say, Paul Reinman. How fascinating would you find the writing then?