Totally talking about myself here. It’s funny that I can feel like the worst writer to ever put pen to paper yet at the same time be incensed when someone criticizes my writing… let along rejects it.
Because secretly I think I’m the bomb. I’ve had just enough success to make me … well, not honestly humble.
And it makes failure burn baby.
I write something, you know just toss it off, maybe edit it a bit and send it in. And there’s a sureness in me that sets me up for that pain.
Back, about a million years ago it seems, I took an intro to English at what is now Southern Indiana University. My professor was Dr. Thomas Rivers. He was cool, and probably so damn bored teaching basic essay structure to kids who were supposed to already know basic essay structure. But he was funny and I liked his class. I was an Accounting major. I didn’t like Accounting. So I looked forward to English 101 with Dr. Rivers. Then came our first big assignment. I procrastinated and at zero hour I tossed off the essay (on weeds) and turned it in. (At that time in ancient history I had to type it..on a TYPEWRITER!). And I waited.
The essay came back a few classes later. I sat in my seat (in the back of course) and my eyes filled up with tears. I couldn’t breath and I wanted to run out the door (which I was also very close to).
Failure? Far from it. A++ YOU CAN WRITE. It said. Once we all had a chance to look at our papers and our grades Dr. Rivers started class. And he called my name. He asked for my paper back (which did not have one red mark on it anywhere.) And in front of the class he held it up. He read it. And then he asked for my permission to keep it as a teaching tool for future classes.
I was beyond floored. I was speechless. I was happy yes, but mostly I was terrified.
I ran into Dr. Rivers a couple days later in the commons and he asked me to come to his office hours. He gave me my first copy of Strunk and White. He offered to work with me. And he was very happy I had taken his class.
I dropped the class two weeks later. I’m 54 now and I’m still terrified that was the best thing I”ll every write.
But I’m arrogant about it too. Because it was in there. It was from me. I wrote that. I earned that. And I somehow expected every piece from then on to be THAT level of perfect.
When it’s not that level I’m devastated and full of insecurity and doubt.
And that’s been my mistake. Since those days at USI (then called ISUE) in 1983. Yeah I copped to it.
What I’ve learned that got me into the a couple magazines.
- Keep going. I didn’t and I should have. I would have learned a lot from a heaping helping of disappointment.
- Write every day. It’s a muscle, this gift, but it atrophies if you don’t use it. My arrogance said it was always there for the taking. I took it alright, took it for granted.
- Hold the piece like it’s going to be awful – sort of weird advice maybe. but I’ve sent in a lot of stuff before it was ready. If I’d have waited a week, re-read it, I would have been aware of the flaws. Or more of them.
- Get some flippin deadlines. I’m so much better with deadlines. I focus and think things through but not over think them.
- Get some damn humility! Not humiliation. Let people other than your mother read your work. Get in a writers group and be confident, but don’t act like you’re a gift to the group.
- Read for someone else. Seeing how to help them be better helped me objectively see how to make my work be better
- Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, they say, it’s thinking of yourself less. When I thought of a piece I’d just submitted I realized my mind goes right to the accolade, the raves, the validation. I forget to focus on the voice of the piece and the sharing of that story or article for what it has to offer. I wrote it for a reason. The idea came to me for a reason. I just have to focus on the voice.
I did go back to school. Finally. Graduated from University of Iowa. With professors just as amazing as Dr. Rivers. They’d also seen they’re share of good writers. It is Iowa afterall. And their input and CRITICISM was and is invaluable. Obviously more so than the raves. At least for me.
How bout you?