Life as a Yo-Yo

| Friday, April 27, 2012
Today's Tune: Oh No Not Another One

We all like to think we're special. It's only human. We're each the star of the movie called Our Life, where everything that happens is uniquely tied to us and bursting with personal meaning no one else can see.

For a lot of us, our specialness was acknowledged and encouraged from a young age. Parents, teachers, peers, strangers on the street... they noticed something about us sparkled, and they heaped praise on us. That thing might have been, I don't know, creative writing. Our stories in school came back with big, shiny A's. The teacher read them aloud to the class. University professors wrote notes about our cleverness and literary prowess. The other students in our writing circle fell over themselves to tell us how incredible our weekly submission was. Maybe we were published in a magazine. Maybe our short story received a glowing comment from a big-wig in publishing.

However the experience differs, at its core it always stays the same. We're good writers. No, we're excellent writers. Always at the head of the class, always the most advanced writer in the room, always feeling like we're ready for the next step. Words are easy, and friendly, and beautiful.

But no matter how great you are, no matter who told you that you had the good stuff, one day we all reach a wall. Eventually, if we honestly want to pursue writing, we hit that point where someone says, "No, not good enough. Go back until you're better."

The first time this happens, it can be incredibly jarring. A lot of us immediately slip into an egoistic, sensitive place. Wait. Wait. Don't you know how good I am? Everyone says so. Everyone. What's wrong with you that you can't see it, too? Often this sort of bluntness doesn't hit us until we're out of the safe haven of school and peer support. It's especially biting if we've managed to garner some nice comments from professional writers, agents, or editors. It's that first indication that no, everyone is not going to think gold falls from your fingertips. And it hurts.

This is the place where writers often diverge in the wood. Some writers bite their lip, blink back tears, and keep walking down the brambly path. They accept that this probably isn't the last time they'll hear their work is flawed, but they'll learn to live with it in their own way. Others will be so affronted, so offended, so sure of their own brilliance that they'll denounce anyone who says a cross word about their beloved work and fall back into the haven of people who lavish praise. These are the people who claim publishers can't recognize "real art" and agents are the Devil incarnate and people who write negative reviews are REALLY MEAN AND ALSO DUMB and et cetera. Still others will decide they can't hack it and will put away their writing hat and walk back the way they came.

None of this is a commentary on trade vs. self-publishing, by the way. In case anyone thought that was where I was going with this. Learning to accept criticism and the drive to be better is not something only obtainable through large publishers. Arrogance and demanding PRAISE ONLY isn't exclusive to the self-published.

It's just hard. It's hard to go through life close to the top with our writing awards and confidence only to hit that wall and realize we're caught in a crowd of other people who are just like us. It's hard to be number one for so long and suddenly realize you're only one of a thousand. Ten thousand. A hundred thousand. It's a very yo-yo-esque sensation, especially when you get up another rung on the publishing ladder and realize there are still a dozen more rungs to go.

There are always a dozen more. It's a magic ladder. An evil magic ladder.

It's really no wonder we're such an up-down bunch. This path is full of soaring highs and crippling lows. We'll get lots of brambles in our shoes and it's gonna hurt. But those bright beams of sunlight shining through the trees and the beautiful brooks we stumble across along the way make it worth it. And if that's not good enough, there are other paths to take.


{ Old Kitty } at: April 27, 2012 at 6:01 AM said...

When I first started (near enough a decade ago) I was basically told that my writing stinks more than a pile of poo or words to that effect! Roll on to now and I get feedback in the lines of "you are obviously a writer and don't make mistakes that first time writers do and much as we love your story we are looking for edgier, more non mainstream stories ..." (true feedback!)

So I think I'm now at the stage where I know I'm one of millions of writers - all better than me - aiming for the stars.

Then again, I guess I won't be at this point if it weren't for the harsh criticisms (cos they were so right!) I had to begin with and how they pushed me into going back to basics and learning this art form from scratch!

Saying this I do take umbrage with the way reviews work on things like Amazon and Goodreads because the star rating really does affect perception (in my silly opinion anyway) and some of the reviews (for some of my fave books) are truly vindictive.

Take care

{ TL Conway } at: April 27, 2012 at 7:34 AM said...

I don't have much to say--you really summed it up beautifully in this post. If there was a like button, I'd hit it. :)

For myself, I let the fear of the *possibility* of criticism hold me back from ever putting something out there into the Big, Bad World. Then I sometimes wonder, "If I have to ask myself if I'm strong enough for this business, isn't that a sign that I'm not?" Repeat crazy cycle.

{ We Heart YA } at: April 27, 2012 at 11:38 AM said...

Hear hear!

We definitely experience the ups and downs of the biz, and we find that having a strong support group (whether crit partners like us, or friends, or family members) can be a big help in getting through.

{ Andrew Leon } at: April 27, 2012 at 1:05 PM said...

I could comment at length, but I don't really have time. I think what it comes down to is this: write what you like. No, not just what you like, but make yourself your audience. If you read it and like it, that's all you really need. If other people end up liking it, too, that's great, but don't focus on them. Make yourself your audience.

Of course, if you go back and read it and think, "this is crap!" well, then, you have a problem.

{ Dracula } at: May 16, 2012 at 9:43 PM said...

Very insightful post, Steph. Personally, I think a good writer can be satisfied with their work, but a great writer will never be. Which means misery all around, but if we didn't like misery, we wouldn't have started writing in the first place. Or second place, as it may be.

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