Babies, American Idol, and Writing

Writing Heart

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.

You don’t.

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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11 Responses to “Babies, American Idol, and Writing”
  1. Tatuu says:

    Ruthie, press on!

  2. I wrote a blog draft last night about how I’m afraid to plunge into my topic (part-time working moms)…and then I was even too afraid to publish the post about how I was afraid. Ha!

    The internets are brutal.

  3. Kolyssa says:

    Just thought you should know, I’m not much of a blog reader. In fact, I read no blogs… that is, until I found yours. I read “Your Body Is Not The Problem,” and I immediately subscribed and have read all your posts ever since. That’s saying a lot for me. I find your writing to be genuine and relatable. Yes, criticism is good and necessary, but here is a little bit of honest encouragement for your day!

  4. Kerry says:

    I can’t imagine how hard it is to keep a blog and open yourself up for (potentially hurtful comments), but I just wanted to let you know that I have recently discovered your blog, and I find your posts really inspiring. Specifically, I loved “Your Body is Not the Problem.” When I started reading that post, I initially thought I disagreed with what you were saying, but the post has been one of a few articles I have read recently that has made me look at modesty in a whole new light. The post really made me think, in fact, I have been mulling it for a few days now. Basically, while I think that the importance of modesty cannot be overstated, it disgusts me when girls are blamed as stumbling blocks for men, and I loved how you reaffirmed the beauty and value of young women.

    I actually wanted to post a reply to “Your Body is Not a Problem” when it first came out, but I chickened out. At any rate, I just wanted to let you know that your blog posts (even the controversial ones) have been a huge blessing for me!

  5. Robert Millar says:

    Ruthie, If they aren’t throwing stones at you it probably means you are not saying anything worth saying. Although I hate people who throw stones…..
    But then I have a love hate relationship with even those precious people who edit my work and would never throw a stone.

    So I only let people I really trust take my babies and carve them up so the average reader can comprehend what on earth it was I was trying to say. For the first year or two I’d pitch a fit, storm out of the room, come back in, storm out again, come back again and then finally thank my editor for making my words meaningful. Considering my editor is also my wife that created awesome opportunity for marriage building sessions! :) I then added my mother-in-law to be the editor for my class papers, a professional communications director for the YL blog and communication and retain my wife for everything, while having to awesome women in their 50+ years to look over the embryo that is the novel I’m creating. I just realized all my editors are women! No wonder my writing is so good! :)

  6. Amanda says:

    I loved your “Your Body…” post but I can see how it would lead you to find coping mechanisms. I think feeling emotions is a good thing, and you aren’t wrong for having an emotional reaction on such topics.

    I’ve taken some cognitive-behavioral therapy classes. One part of depression and other mental illnesses is that you tend to spiral into negative thinking/emotions or think on a subject in a non-constructive manner. One trick I learned is meditation to help break that cycle. Breathing exercises have helped me the most. I don’t know if “taking comments to heart” means that you’re “spiraling” or thinking too negatively but I wanted to try and help! I think having safe spaces and people to vent and recharge are important, too.

  7. Natalie says:

    How timely this is, Ruthie. I was just talking to a fellow writer friend last night about expectations and how we can get so caught up (and confused and distraught, etc.) over other’s expectations. And that’s because they do not know our heart and our desires as writers and so on. She reminded me to focus on the expectations of those closest to me, including God, who are nothing but supportive and sound a LOT like your dad- “You have a story to tell.” It turns into a mantra when those ugly voices creep in and cause doubt. Thanks for what you speak here and the book you are writing with your husband! Press on!

  8. Chloe M. says:

    Hey Ruthie,

    I recently stumbled upon your blog from the “Guys Don’t Text” and “Girls don’t text back” series – loved them.

    Concerning what you said, I do think that each one of us bloggers/writers/etc do want to post an article and get great reviews….and when we don’t, it does leave us feeling personally hurt.

    Yet the most important thing that I’ve had to remember when writing blogs is the fact that we should write everything, do everything, say everything for the glory of God. Not our glory, or the glory of others, or the feeling of recognition or praise (although, believe me, that is AWESOME :P ),

    All in all, I do find great things on your blog, and thank you for not being afraid to post your thoughts.

    God bless you!

    Chloe M.

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