I’ve been thinking of a good first post for my new web site and the first thing that came to mind was a subject that I think all writers must learn up front. Humility. What do I mean by that?
As writers, we express ourselves through words. We tell stories, pour our hearts out, put our hearts on our sleeves for you, the reader, to slice and dice and tear us down without thought for our feelings, hopes dreams…
Okay, I’m laying it on a bit thick.
To some writers, what I just said is the absolute truth.
I’ve got news for you. In this sometimes ugly business, you have to develop a thick skin. When you write something and put it out for everyone to see, you must be prepared for unfiltered responses. It’s just like when a woman puts on a dress and her kid says “Mommy, you look fat.” Or when a teenage boy thinks he does something heroic and the girl of his dreams yawns and says “Joe, that was really stupid.”
When we write, we have to be prepared for both sides of the coin, the praise and the criticism. No matter how hard you work at something, no matter how cool the inspiration, at least half of the people are going to love it while the other half hate it. Count on it. While one person is going to slap you on the back and tell you how great it is, the other is going to slap you in the face and tell you it sucks.
That is just the end result, what your final audience is going to see.
What about your peers, other writers? If you want to be a really great writer, I’ll repeat this—You have to learn humility. No matter how long you’ve been at this, no matter how much practice you’ve had, you are never going to be perfect.
As an editor, I know this first hand. I do a lot of editing for member of my writers group. In my 17 years at this, I’ve learned a lot about writing, both personally and professionally. I put it to practice. However, I also know that when you are too close to something, you can’t see the forest through the trees. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true. I even wrote a separate article about it which will feature later on in my On Writing page. When I write, I try to follow all the rules I’ve learned over many years of practice. However, during my creative process, I follow a stream-of-consciousness and sometimes skip over a few of those rules. The idea is to get the ideas down while they’re fresh in my head. I’ll worry about fixing the manuscript later. I write much cleaner than I used to, but I still make many of the mistakes I find when I edit other friend’s manuscripts. Does this mean I’m a bad writer? Of course not! That shouldn’t mean you are either. That is what editing and writer’s groups and reading buddies are for.
When you write something and give it to someone for a critique, don’t get all bent out of shape or want to quit writing if you get it back covered in red ink. Humility.
If you are searching for someone to critique your work and they give you the “tough love” treatment, belittle you, give you harsh criticism, or make you feel like crap, run, don’t walk away from that person! You are NOT getting a good critique! There is a difference between constructive criticism and being demeaned by an asshole. The world doesn’t need these people. Trust me on this. If you consider sharing a manuscript with someone and you ever hear the words “tough love,” “brutal truth,” or “blunt honesty” in the conversation, you don’t need to be dealing with that person. You’ve learned one thing. They don’t have a clue how to be constructive and diplomatic. You’ll just get frustrated dealing with someone like that.
Say you find some great people, get past all the editing and your story or book is published. It makes it to Amazon and the reviews start rolling in. Now is where you see the real unbiased reviews by total strangers. They can be really good or very cruel. The cruel ones can be personal attacks, attacks on your writing style, holes in the plot or story that nobody else noticed, or something completely out of left field. My personal favorite is something to do with Kindle that has nothing to do with the story. Be prepared. Humility.
Writing has a lot of ups and downs. I’ve weathered the storm, so far. Here I am 17 years later. You can do it too. Just learn a bit of humility.