Like a true writer, I had a deadline looming and nothing down on the page yet. I knew I wanted this blog to be about writing and things that are relevant to writers, regardless of why that might be.
I was sat at the members’ meeting earlier this week, listening to everyone talk about their projects and how they felt about them. This is actually unusual as we don’t really normally talk about writing at all. And when we all started talking, patterns began to emerge: patterns of confidence and patterns of misjudging one’s ability or capacity to complete a project, never mind completing it to satisfaction.
If you’ve done a lot of reading about writing as a craft, these insecurities are probably very familiar, as they’re the kinds of things that writers address in their books. But I realise that not everyone reads these kinds of books, and I think a lot of people must get a very rude shock when they sit down to write The Big Thing and realise that they can’t do it. Or they can do it but they hate it when they re-read it. Or they love it and show it to other people who hate it.
You try and wrangle with and twist the feedback into something positive, or try to give the people who disliked your work permission to dislike it because of some perceived difference between you and them. Maybe they didn’t understand where you were coming from or what you were trying to say?
The internet has given us all the opportunity to take those first tentative steps towards something without needing to leave the house, and it’s easy to think that because you’ve taken those first few steps by yourself, you can go most of the way alone. Unfortunately, the chances are that eventually you’ll have to show your writing to another person, and that isn’t always a positive experience.
But remember that until you put those words down on the page and showed them to someone else, you had literally no idea of your capacity. You might have had a gut feeling that turned out to be right, but you had no way of knowing until you put yourself out there and showed it to someone else. If it’s worth anything to you, know that you’re not alone.
Getting rejected or getting critical feedback is difficult — it’s difficult to digest and easy to take personally. But until you’re willing to get that feedback, you’re going to find it hard to improve. And you know what? Chances are that if you share your work for critique with another writer, they’ll show you their writing as well, and you’ll see where they missed the mark and where the plot’s so thin you could put your finger through it. So when you’re thinking of nice ways to say that you’ve had sneezes with more substance than their main character, remember your own feelings in that situation — partially so that you stay kind, and partially so that you know how the other person was feeling when they gave you feedback. By understanding both sides of that interaction, you’ll learn to take feedback on board without giving up and going to work in a pickle factory.
Also remember that for someone to critique your work, they had to sit down and read every single word and at least think about how they feel about it. Even if the feedback isn’t what you wanted to hear, at least someone has finally given your work proper consideration instead of a cursory glance!
Writing is often touted as a solitary activity, and it is, but no book is put together by just one person. If you’re interested in improving your craft and learning more about what other people are doing, it’s important to be part of a broader community that can help support you and give you your own space to grow. It’s my sincerest hope that the community we build here will help all of you improve your writing, meet new people and help build a supportive community where we can all become better writers. I’m happy to put myself out there as the first to show you all that it’s not that scary, it’s not that hard and you can still look people in the eyes after they’ve read something you’ve written. So please, leave the house and get to know your fellow writers. Send emails, meet for coffee and come along to social events in the community that will put you in touch with fellow creatives. You’ll learn things you didn’t know you didn’t know, and probably meet a few interesting people in the process.
Rebecca Fletcher is a incipient editor/writer based in Ballarat. She likes turnips and Guinness and has something resembling a website at twentyfourletterslong.com