Don't Let This Four Letter Word Undermine Your Writing!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Let me tell you a sad story...

It's about me, but you might see yourself in it, which is really the point of sharing this with you, isn't it?

A year ago, I was an excited writer. 

I was off to a writing conference at a beautiful mansion in Westchester, NY.  

There, I was scheduled to meet with an editor of my choice from a prestigious publishing house in New York City.  We would confer for twenty minutes, and during our time together, she would give me constructive notes about the first 40 pages of my novel that I had sent to her in advance.  Great, right?

Unfortunately, she was less than impressed with my story.  She thought my heroine was shallow.

She felt no sympathy for her at all. In fact, she didn't like her.

In her expert opinion, she thought that Nora was an unreliable narrator, for she bashes the antagonist before the reader gets to meet her.

She reminded me that if readers do not identify and root for my protagonist from the very first page, they will not continue the journey with her, and my book will be cast aside for another.

Yet, worst of all, she said this was a novice's mistake and a real problem.

Largely, the negatives seemed to luminously outweigh the positives. I also noticed that her purple pen painted almost every one of the 40 pages I sent to her.

Hearing and reading the criticism was daunting, overwhelming and paralyzing.

I remember feeling like one of my eighth graders who had received her graded writing piece back from me.

I tried to stay positive and upbeat, but intuitively,  I knew I had brought all of this upon myself.

I was an imposter, and this editor knew it.  It was right there on every page.

Let me digress for a moment:

I started my novel a long time ago.  I was recovering from back surgery the summer of 2007 and decided since I couldn't go out on the boat, I'd place on paper a story that kept nudging at me to give it a voice.  

I set to work, and I loved it!   I found each time I reread what I had written, I would laugh out loud. This motivated me to continue to write.  

When I had written a sizable portion of the beginning of my novel, I allowed my two sisters, my best friend, and my niece to read it.

Since it was Chick Lit, this my audience.

They all loved it!  They told me they, too, had laughed out loud.  They wanted more!

 I felt like Charles Dickens and thought about sending them weekly installments.  

To say I was elated by these favorable reviews is an understatement!

So what the hell happened between these moments and the one I was suffering through with the editor?  

It was quite apparent:  I didn't follow my gut.  I was afraid to trust myself. I gave my power away.

I knew this when the editor told me that instead of opening with Nora already at the wedding, I should have grounded my reader in Nora's world and let them share in her ordinary life before it becomes extraordinary.

This would make her sympathetic to my readers, for they would feel they know Nora long before the antagonist comes in.  When she does, they will root for Nora since they understand the basic situation when the story opens.

Here's the kicker: she then suggested I open my novel with Nora preparing for the wedding she doesn't want to attend. 

I wanted to cry! I could feel my heart race, and my fight or flight impulse kicked in.

Holy Freaking Crap!  This is exactly how I opened--until I changed it!!!
So, here is my first tip for you when it comes to writing anything:

1.  Trust your initial impulse: Think about a multiple-choice test. When do we screw it up?  When we go back and over think the answers and change them.  

I was guilty of this. I had initially received great feedback on my story, but my perfectionism, which is a euphemism for fear,  took over. We'll get to this in a minute.  

The key takeaway is this:  You had/have an impulse to write this story that was born inside of your imagination; the idea probably ruminated within you for a long time before it ever found its voice on paper.

As Elizabeth Gilbert suggests in her amazing book on creativity, called, Big Magic, ideas are alive and attach themselves to us if and when we are open to them. 

Therefore, your story idea didn't land on you by accident.  You were meant to receive it--but more importantly, you were meant to bring it to life as only you can!  Therefore, trust your gut!

Ultimately, I should have trusted mine.

I know it sounds cliche, but as a writer, this passion or curiosity is constantly at you to express yourself.

The need to write can be equated to an addiction; the more you resist, the more the desire gnaws at you until you feed the need.

I  am not a novice, nor do I consider myself an expert.

Even when someone deems him/herself one, he/she, too, is only human.

No one knows everything.

This is why when it comes to your story, you must trust your innate ability to write your story as only you can  I continue to learn about the craft as I continue to evolve into a better writer.

Therefore, I changed my story because I was looking for outside adulation instead of trusting my gut.

Once I went outside of myself, my story became someone else's, I relinquished control.

I had foolishly taken the advice of people in a writing class I had attended at my local library and scraped my opening because they said I should.

Also, instead of taking the editor's words under advisement, I took each one of them as gospel because I trusted the expert's opinion over my own.

I was fearful that she was right and was wrong. I reasoned She does this for a living; she knows what she's talking about.  Obviously, I don't!  If she said I have to change things, well then, I have to change things. 

How Dumb!

So, learn from my mistake:

Trust your impulse, and follow tip number 2!

2.  Practice "Self-Containment"Julia Cameron coined this phrase.

The key takeaway is this:  Essentially, don't share any work in progress.

Keep it to yourself.

For as long as you can, keep your idea to yourself as your precious little secret.

Guard it; nurture it as if it's your baby because, in point of fact, you give birth to whatever it is you create.

Treat it with respect and the utmost care.

However, if you do decide to share your work-in-progress to see if you are on the right track, only a trusted few should be privy to your unfinished/unpublished manuscript, and you must choose very carefully.

It might seem daring to give your writing to the most pessimistic person you know who hates everything ever written,

Hell, if he/she likes it, score!

This is delusional thinking and will most likely put you in a similar situation as I and the editor, so don't do it!  

Instead, if you must/want to share, place your writing into loving, honest hands.

This allows for gentle feedback, not the Kirkus Reviews, the self-dubbed World's toughest book critics.

Don't let other's tear it down before it's even built.

When you are ready to share your completed work, choose wisely!

Here is a link to Stay With Yourself. com. which provides a  great excerpt by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way that I will use from now on in my own writing practice.   

So, after my meeting with the aforementioned editor, I doubted every word of my manuscript.

I took her notes home with me and threw them in the back of my closet.

Every time I thought of them, I felt shame.

This editor's critique was so ingrained in my head,

I was paralyzed by fear and doubt.

I wouldn't go near my novel.

 I felt lost and uncertain as to how to proceed.

I was convinced I needed to go back and make my rough draft perfect! Ugh, my fatal flaw...and probably yours as well! READ ON!

So, trust your impulse, practice "self-containment" and follow tip 3: 
3. Drop the Perfectionism! It is FEAR personified!

The key takes away is this: Perfectionism is not a cute personality quirk. Believe me, it's ugly!
It's a way to undermine yourself from ever moving forward and finishing the piece you are writing.  

As a result of my misguided thinking, I spent the bulk of the summer reworking my novel--again-instead of moving ahead.

I should have trusted myself and remembered one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.

As Ann Lamott says in Bird by Bird, another great writing book, you should have "shitty first drafts." She says that a story evolves little by little.  

She believes that the writers who succeed are the ones who "keep their butts in the chair and do not give up."  

They keep moving forward not expecting perfection on every page.   

They'll clean up the mess later. 

I call it throwing up on the page. 

Get it all out. 

What's there might not be pretty or perfect, but you'll clean it all up when you're finally spent all of your creative energy and finished your project.  

Now, go clean up the mess; revise and edit!

Interestingly enough, during February break from school--nearly a year after this conference with that editor-- I was preparing to transfer my novel from Word into Scrivener.

When I reread all the pages I had reworked over the summer, I hated them.

I liked my initial version so much better.

See what a super colossal waste of time this was?  I should have stuck with my initial shitty first draft instead of creating yet a second shitty draft.

Hence, one more year has gone by and my novel had stalled because I didn't trust myself; I didn't practice "self-containment" and I was so busy being a perfectionist, I stopped being a writer.

So the overall takeaway of my sad story is this:

You are the one and only captain of your creative vessel.  If you let someone else seize control of your story, well, you now have an inner mutiny on your hands. Don't do it.  Learn from my mistake,

You know more than you think! Show up to the page as you are and let it rip!

Constantly remind yourself why you started your piece of writing in the first place. You have a story to tell- a story only YOU can tell. Stop making excuses and write that "shitty first draft."

You are human; you'll never be perfect and neither will that thing you're writing. You can rewrite until the cows come home! Don't do it until it's done! Move forward.

You can't clean up a mess until you make it.
Ultimately, I will admit that my meeting with the editor was demoralizing, but don't feel too sorry for me.

No, I wasn't discovered that day as the next big name in the Chick Lit author realm, but I sure learned a lot and reclaimed what is rightfully mine: my voice and my story!

It certainly was an eye-opener.

I am now moving ahead, and it's the direct result of all the mistakes I made before, during and after my conferencing with that editor.

I should send her a note and thank her.

Oh, but I can't. I'm too busy moving forward so I can finally finish my "shitty first draft"!

Maybe I'll slip the note in when I send her my finished manuscript:) 

Before you leave, please indulge yourself in this free gift which is worth its weight in gold:  

I love this video, starring Ann Lamott. It's about sixteen minutes, but it's so worth the time.

If you don't know her work, you should!  Spend some time with her; you won't regret it!

In it, she discusses what she believes she truly knows! And boy, she knows a lot!

Not only is she a great writer, but she's a great orator and motivator!  It's funny, candid, insightful, and touching! 

It makes you want to grab onto life and to move forward as a writer as only you can, should, must and will!


Come back soon. I'll be here writing upside down and will be happy to share my process with you.  

Writers are meant to share and collaborate.  Leave me an insightful comment about your experience with me!  Was I helpful?  Do you have some insight you are willing to share with me?

Please Share and Pin ME! 




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