Babies, American Idol, and Writing
When I dreamed about the life of a writer, I somehow imagined more security, perhaps more fist-bumps at trendy restaurants, and definitely less criticism. Oh I was wrong!
Last week, when I wrote the post, Your Body is Not the Problem, I barely slept after reading some of the comments. I was riddled with insecurity. Was writing supposed to hurt this much? I thought back to last year when someone wrote on the blog that I didn’t respect Michael’s authority and I was a wayward wife. I don’t care when people disagree; but when the disagreement feels attacking, that’s when it starts to hurt. I told Michael about a year ago, that I felt I had arrived in the blogging world when people finally started to disagree with me. Discussion & hard topics make this blog great.
We also heard back from our editors last week. In talking to other writers, I realized I’m not alone in wanting them to say, “Stunning. Gripping. Stayed up all night reading it,” or at least, “Wow! You’ve hit this one out of the park!” But that wasn’t the case. (Insert laugh from seasoned authors).
Criticism on your work I presume is like when you have a baby; even though you’d say out loud she or he isn’t the smartest or the most adorable child, you kindof hope deep down that you really are housing the next Einstein or fairly soon Hollywood will come knocking on your door. Right? When I read through the edited first chapter, I could feel my airways start to close up. It felt like everything was missing and all I could think about was all those stories, those zingers, those wonderful analogies that were just gone.
It felt like handing over a perfectly lovable child (maybe with a few missing fingers, but who’s counting?) and getting back one without arms! I wanted to write and say, “Wait. I think you got out the chainsaw when what we really needed was just a few shallow stitches.” It’s humbling to realize our babies aren’t all that perfect after all. In fact, they may need major surgery before anyone else will recognize their ingenuity and adorableness and that’s ok; it’s just all part of the process.
The truth is if no one ever critiques our work, we’ll never get any better. We’ll keep repeating the same mistakes, isolating readers, switching verb tenses, and sounding condescending. It’s like when your parents tell you your entire life, “You can do anything” and suddenly they start suggesting that medical school might be a tad too challenging for your intellect. Or that while they appreciate your passion for singing, you might want to keep your day job because you’re (deep breath) not the next Taylor Swift. If people, readers, editors and the like only tell us what we want to hear–we end up like those horrible-sounding ‘singers’ on American Idol, howling away on stage because no one ever told them the truth.
People ask me all the time how to become a writer and why I started writing in the first place. The only reason you should ever become a writer is if you have something important to say. But how do I know if what I have is important? they ask.
But you never write for other people. Writing needs to start deep in your heart where you feel like it will explode all over if you do not get the words–the message–on screen. That’s why editing hurts. Why criticism stings. Because your heart is on that page, defenseless and innocent, often just trying to hang on to the kinder, softer words. When the comments come and red marks cover the page, it’s all you can do to remember that you started writing because you trusted in a good Dad that said you have a unique story to tell. It takes courage to put your heart into words, this much I know. I’m telling you like I’m told myself: Stop worrying & press on!
What about you? Are you a writer? A blogger? What has helped you not take comments or edits to heart?
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