As we all get ready to start a new year writing, it’s a bit of a tradition to give ourselves a smart kick in the pants. “This could be your year!” “If you don’t do it now, you might never do it at all!” “Finish that book!” All of this is true. But an FB post a friend made today (today being November 27th) made me think that occasionally, writers need a little coddling. Consider this your cup of warm cocoa with a Snuggie.
My friend was buckling under the weight of several rounds of what was probably meant to be constructive criticism. Knowing the audience for her work, however, I can guess that it was not always delivered with the greatest sensitivity. As a result, she’s been thrown into a spiral of self-doubt, wondering if she can write at all, and believing that if she can’t, she has nothing left. Obviously, she is receiving lots of back-patting and hand-holding right now.
Have you ever felt that way? I know I have. I’ve wondered if the comments I got on school papers over-inflated my opinion of my abilities, and if I (not-so-secretly) stink. And if I don’t stink, exactly, I wonder if I’ll ever have a marketable idea, not to mention the number of such it takes to sustain a career. Which would be another way of stinking, actually. Writers are a creative bunch; we can probably think up more interesting ways to disparage and discourage ourselves than the members of just about any other profession. But remember: we write fiction.
So if you’re in a slough of despond over your latest royalty check/ critique/rejection/contest placement/offhand-comment-from-your-mother, I am here to tell you that you don’t stink. Are there ways you can improve? Of course. Everyone has those; there’s no such thing as a perfect book, ever. But you know that already, and there are scads of articles out there on how to handle criticism. Blah-blah-blah. This isn’t one of them. This is your cup of cocoa. You are a good writer. You will find a contract in your inbox. It’s inevitable, and every day gets you closer. Just keep writing.
But let’s say, just hypothetically, that you are, in fact, a horrible writer. That no matter how much research you do, how much time and effort you put into the craft, how many critiques you try to incorporate into your latest draft…your work still reeks. What if? Well, repeat after me:
That. Does. Not. Matter.
“But,” you say, “You didn’t read that e-mail where Barb Q. Expert says I got the detail for 16th- century stocking colors wrong, and the other one where Patty Perfection said my plot has so many holes it’s like the Illinois section of I-70 in the springtime…. Clearly, I stink, and if I stink, thenI have to quit, and then what will I have?”
Dear friend, there are no Writing Police, not really. No one is going to break down your door and take away your pencils and keyboard. You can always have writing. Know why? Because you love it. It gets you up in the morning, it makes your days fly, it greases the cogs and flywheels of your brain, so that you see, and think and wonder and feel. It’s what you long for whenever you’re doing something else, and it’s what all of that something else bleeds into. If you love writing, it loves you back; you are a writer, and you need to keep writing, no matter what, and no matter who. If I may be so bold as to be religious, God gave you writing to give you joy. Take it. Let it burn so brightly inside you that you can barely see the “haters.”
Send them to the left.