I have always been a fiercely self-conscious person.
When I was a teenager I wore baggy clothes, thinking that if I camouflaged my body I wouldn’t get looked at. As a young mom, I often worried what “older” mommacitas thought of me. I kept a spotless house and agonized over every detail of raising my babies. Now, I’m confident in my skin as a woman and mother. My anxiety is ebbing. I made three PEOPLE with this body. I wear whatever (the hell) I like. My house is still tidy–most of the time–but I’ve learned to let the little things slide. Our family is happier because of it. And, because of my new found confidence, I’ve shifted ranks from “Helicopter Parent” to “Free Range Parent.” (Although, as my precious hellions will attest, even I still have some boundaries.)
But, my anxiety is bleeding into a new aspect of my life, as I take on the role of budding author. While *gasp* presenting my work to other people to read, I feel like I’m presenting myself as an awkward tween all over again, which wasn’t pretty ladies and gentlemen: picture legs like broomsticks, ears like doors, and a mouth that often ran off before my brain could catch up. Every week, I submit my work to my critique group to get torn apart . . . on purpose. Every now and then, I receive a figurative pat on the back–a series of comments about the dramatic improvement of my writing, and a flood of excitement over the latest plot twists.
I also receive a truck load of criticism.
I am lucky enough that I have two main “critters” who have followed my story from the beginning. I value their opinion more than anyone else’s, because they put in the time and give kick-a@# advice. They want to help. One of these crazy cats has even stepped up as a mentor to me. When I lose confidence after a particularly painful critique cycle, he tells me to smart the hell up and start writing again.
Which is great!!
But, the time has come to pull up my socks. No more taking three weeks off my critique group because I can’t hack the criticism. No more rocking in the corner, singing Last Dance With Mary Jane while I twirl my hair around my fingers (okay, I have never done that, but I HAVE felt like it). Because, it’s tough out there, folks, and as an aspiring author, this is just the beginning.
Stephen King has sold 350 million books and receives criticism every single day. Does he care about the haters? I’m going to go out on a limb here to guess that he doesn’t. And, if he did, he could just cheer himself up by diving into a giant pool full of money. The ability to take criticism in stride is something I’ll have to master, too. In the real world, people are going to say things that will sting a little when my book is published. That’s the reality. In fact, the better my book sells, the more scathing reviews it’ll receive (alongside many AWESOME ones, too, of course).
At this phase in my writer’s journey the people in my critique group are trying to help me. Some are published, successful authors who have set aside hours upon hours of their time to point out areas of my work I can improve on. Sometimes, when the stars align just right . . . they even show me how to fix my blunders. Right now I am wading in the kiddie pool. In less than six months I’ll be swimming with the sharks. So, how do I harden my shell?
I recently watched an interview Oprah gave to . . . God help me, I can’t remember her name. I even searched for the interview online, but couldn’t find it. The author said something I’ll never forget. “My book, my work, does not define me.” This quote has changed my entire perspective on writing. When I show my work to people, I am not saying this is me, this is all I’m capable of. The chapters are a snapshot of my ability of that time. I am a new author, just like I’m a new blogger. I will make mistakes.
A friend of mine recently invited me to check out some of his older books. He added that his writing has improved quite a bit since he wrote them. He didn’t say it because he was embarrassed, and he wasn’t forgiving himself for past blunders, or excusing himself to me. He said it as a fact. He lived through the awkward author years. Soon, I’ll be that confident in my skin as an author, too. My anxiety will ebb. The rules I so fervently stick to right now will become less important, and my author’s voice will shine.
Just like in life, my mistakes do not define me. My ability to accept those blunders as part of the learning process and improve, does.
To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.
So, how do I move forward from here? I’m going to take my criticism, and be something.