balancing brilliance with the "i sucks."

| Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Today's Tune: Cheap and Cheerful

I think, as a writer, I've been pretty lucky. I've never had anyone tell me I'm terrible, or that I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing. I've never had anyone discourage my writing as an unworthy endeavor.

In fact, quite the opposite. All my life, my writer-self has been nurtured and encouraged. My parents always lavished me with praise and told me to keep going. Hell, my dad knew I was going to be a children's book writer before I did. Friends told me my work was smart, witty, funny, awesome, and any other positive adjective you can think of. My teachers and professors gave me A's and positively raved about my creativity and mastery over words, all the way up through university. I could fly through English courses barely batting an eye.

So you can imagine my feelings of confusion and betrayal when I was turned out into the "real" world of writing, only to find that many people aren't all that impressed with me.

Not that I'm terrible. I'm not. I'm pretty good, actually. And I enjoy criticism. It helps me strengthen something that was just "pretty good," but not great. It took me a little while to get to this point. Sometimes I still struggle with it.

This is a lesson we all have to learn - balancing our believed greatness with our real greatness. Learning that all the best-intentioned praise and encouragement in the world doesn't mean we're natural Faulkners and Shakespeares. Even with natural talent, we still have to work hard to craft our skill into something that will make it in the hard, cold world of publishing.

But we can't thrive on criticism alone. We need that balance of encouragement to keep us going through the "I suck so bad" moments. We just have to be so careful it doesn't go to our heads.

How do you find the balance between praise and criticism? Which parts do you find the most difficult to handle? Can you still hold your head high and see the good things about your writing, even in the face of the red pencil?

9 comments:

{ Magan } at: September 8, 2010 at 9:27 AM said...

I think once you get alot of critical feedback you really develop that "tough skin." That's how I've dealt with it, atleast. I've never been told that I was a bad writer, per-say, but sometimes when you get a bad critique you feel like poop. What do you do then? Cherry Garcia ice cream and re-runs of Roswell...then back to the drawing board!

{ KarenG } at: September 8, 2010 at 11:32 AM said...

Sometimes it's more difficult for the "natural talents." Also can be more difficult once your book comes out. I expected my demographic to love my novel and they didn't generally. Wow that is disappointing. I've heard stories of authors who essentially "made it," then had devastating setbacks with other books. The higher one climbs the harder the fall.

{ Justine Dell } at: September 8, 2010 at 12:32 PM said...

Not really. There have been times that I re-read something and I'm like, "wow, I wrote that?"

But at the same time, I sthill think I'm subpar. And I think I will always think like that until I'm published. And then I will probably be scratching my head wondering--how did get that published?

~JD

{ LTM } at: September 8, 2010 at 2:02 PM said...

Girl, I feel your pain! :D My mom's been telling me I'd write books since I was in HS, and I was all "not!" Then I started doing it, and mbrr... rejections...

I pull encouragement from my day job--writing freelance for the local paper. My subjects are super about giving me positive feedback. Of course there are occasional complaints. That's when I go under the desk. ;p j/k

{ aspiring_x } at: September 8, 2010 at 5:06 PM said...

i find criticism easier to take than compliments... whenever someone says i did something well, i sort of wonder if they're just being nice... :)

{ Old Kitty } at: September 9, 2010 at 2:30 AM said...

Oh gosh rejection and failure are always hardest to handle. And sometimes I'd read the stories chosen for say a competition I entered and I'm thinking - mine wasn't that bad in comparison!! What happened there?!? Which is sort of worse because I end up thinking what's the point?!
Oh dear!! I'm suddenly feeling quite dejected now! LOL!

Take care
x

{ Lisa Potts } at: September 9, 2010 at 12:57 PM said...

Here's an example of my sometimes messed up thought process:

1. Get positive feedback and/or publish a couple of things in a row.

2. Get rejected and/or harsh critique for the next umpteen things I put out there.

3. Start to think those first things were just flukes and/or people were just being nice.

4. Eat chocolate.

{ Elena Solodow } at: September 10, 2010 at 8:58 AM said...

I overcame fear of rejection even before I decided to be a writer.\

For years, my dream was to become a filmmaker. When I was 17, I actually made a feature film and had the pleasure of attending a women's film conference. I passed the movie on to a woman I had met there, and she gave me the honor or emailing me the worst critique of my work EVER!

It went beyond commenting on the work itself, but she made assumptions about my character - even my religious background - and warned me of a future in the take-out window of the nearest fast-food joint. She accused me of plagiarizing the soundtrack for the film (which I had actually composed with a friend), and said that she'd seen other high school students with a lot more talent. The email went on and on.

So what did I do? A few moments of brief panic, and then I wrote her a response, ignoring all of the "personal" aspects of her email and addressing only the subjects that related to the movie. I admitted where I thought I could have improved the film, and defended the points she had made that were misinformed.

Anyway, after that, I think I can handle whatever people have to say. I still have both emails saved.

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: September 10, 2010 at 11:16 AM said...

YIKES, Elena. That's intense. I like to think I would have reacted the same way, but the other part of me thinks I would have curled into a little cry-ball.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. It helps to feel like you're not so alone :)

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