Thursday, January 20, 2011
A Writer’s Dose of Humble Pie
I've been thinking a lot for the last few days about what it means to be a writer, at least from my viewpoint. As far as I can tell so far there are several key elements. It takes talent, patience, a basic understanding of grammar and punctuation, a decent sized vocabulary, and a writer that is receptive to criticism and in touch with their humble side. Actually, I think that last bit is one of the most important elements. You can have exceptional writing skills and a brilliant imagination, but there comes a time in a lot of writer's lives when they are faced with sending their writing out to be read by very carefully picked, trusted readers. Now, when you send it out, you might think to yourself, "This is awesome! They are going to love this!" Of course, you wait anxiously for your first response, checking your email a hundred times a day, and cursing your internet provider when all you find in your inbox is spam. But then, something amazing happens. You hear that pivotal *ding* and right there on your screen is your first response from a reader. The excitement builds up in your gut, your heart races, and your hands shake as you open it up, just knowing they're going to sing your praises and tell you you're going to be the next J.K. Rowling.
Then reality sets in…
"I think you've got a good start here, but I don't think it's good enough," you read. Wait. What? How is that possible? You might think to yourself. This is understandable after giving so many hours of blood sweat and tears, sacrificing family time, and forgoing sleep to transfer something that has been living and breathing inside your mind onto paper (or word processor) and bringing it to life for others to see and experience. It's also understandable that a writer might feel an intense need to protect and defend their creation from anyone who might treat it badly. However, this is the point where there is most likely one of two reactions. First, complete and utter heartbreak that your baby, this creature that you have spent months (possibly years) planning, writing, and editing, isn't good enough. It's devastating and hard to grasp, so you hug your injured manuscript to your chest and try to find your way out of the dark cloud that has appeared over your head.
Then there's reaction number 2. Anger and defensiveness. Denial and hostility. Because of course it's impossible that someone might not think you're writing is the best thing since sliced bread. The reader is wrong. Your book is outstanding and will get snatched up by the first agent you send it to, who of course is the biggest agent in the literary world. Said agent will get you signed to the biggest publishing house the world has ever known where you will receive a record breaking advance, and your book will shoot straight up to numero uno on the NY Times Best Sellers List. Screw your readers. You're right and he/she is wrong. The end. Nice knowing you.
Both of these reactions are completely irrational and yet, entirely rational considering they're based upon emotions, but this is where we learn what it means to be a writer. And this is also where I say, "Writer, meet Humble Pie." You will never please everybody, there is always going to be someone that doesn't understand what you wrote or why you wrote it, and there are going to be times when what you write isn't right (wow that's some awkward wording right there) and you are going to be called on it, whether it be by your chosen readers or maybe your future agent. The important thing is how you handle it. Don't let your confidence (which might be misconstrued as conceit or cockiness if you're not careful) get in the way of what is right for your book, because sometimes we have to admit when we're wrong. Sometimes it's not about us. It's about the words we write on the page every day. And don't we want them to be the best that they can be? So, be open to criticism and take it how it's meant to be taken, as an attempt to help you grow and learn about your craft. We never stop learning, whether as a first time author (like me and Stacey) or an old pro who has been in the business for decades (like my deeply regarded Mr. King), there is always something to be learned. As long as we're receptive to that, I think we'll do just fine.
(On a side note: I am so not finished with this topic. It will return at a later time. lol)