Writing is beautiful. It is one of the few things that brings me peace. But as much as a gift it is to be able to write, it comes with a price. Exposure. Criticism. Judgment. Self-doubt. Certainly there are other pursuits that involve the same difficulties. But when you're putting something you created, something that you feel like you birthed on the page, it's so deeply personal, that it can be difficult to keep things in perspective.
Yesterday, I followed a long set of tweets by @danielsilliman who was talking about what it is like to be a new professor (or even a doctoral student) fielding difficult questions at conferences...the kind of questions that question everything, that are meant to rattle and undermine. The kind of questions that say nothing about the work or the worker, but speak volumes about the asker.
Being an aspiring writer is difficult. It is a testament to perseverance to keep going. It may seem at times that everyone is more [insert flattering adjective--skilled, lucky, confident, popular] than you. But I think we all have moments where we are positive that we are awful. Or that someone's criticism of work is a criticism of us as a person. Or we are the only ones who are being decimated by harsh assessments.
When I finished my doctorate dissertation presentation, a professor I didn't work with told me he was amazed.I had accomplished a lot, despite being saddled with numerous setbacks. It was a proud moment. But that moment did not last. Only minutes later, a professor who had only read a rough draft of my dissertation made a comment: There were so many mistakes in here, my pen ran out of ink. I literally had to stop marking them. I don't know how I responded. I do know that on a day I'd been anticipating for nearly 5 and half years, a day on which all my friends were waiting to celebrate me, I spent the better part of the afternoon crying in a bathroom stall because of this remark.
Later, as I looked at this professor's markup, I was startled by his exaggeration. Not only had he reviewed the rough draft instead of the final version I'd provided, but he had made few marks. I couldn't understand why he had said what he did. I still don't know why. The difference is, now, I don't care. And maybe I'm even thankful. Because I never loved toxicology. I was pretty good at it. But I'm also really good at eating jelly doughnuts, which I'm fairly certain would not be an occupation that would reward me with long-term happiness, health, and fulfillment. And I get to write. Every single day.
Being a writer is not an easy path. That's why websites such as Lit Rejection (http://www.litrejections.com/) exist (and are awesome!) While you hone your craft, learn the difference between questions/criticisms meant to help and those that are intended to tear down. But don't miss an opportunity to grow because it is uncomfortable. At the same time, choose your input.
You don't have to cry in the bathroom.
I think Daniel summed it up well.
E.M. Hubscher is a fiction writer living in North Carolina. She is represented by the sensational Sharon Pelletier of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management.