Being the first born child, I have grown into a very healthy obsession over the thoughts and feelings of others, especially in how they pertain to me. I lose a night’s sleep if I feel I have offended someone (which has happened recently). I shudder at memories of my awkward moments, which usually stemmed from an ill-stated opinion or brash action. Critique strikes hard, and if potent enough or in rapid succession, I metaphorically curl up inside my safe room and refuse to release the locks until adequate time has passed or soft words coerce me out.
So naturally I decided to write and publish a book.
Now for the first part of this process, my people-pleasing self was fully satiated. My wife and my dad gave me great praise (and a star on the fridge next to my stick figure drawings…I’m not sure what my dad did since I don’t live with him anymore).
My editor gave me a lot to work on, but she also highlighted moments of “great writing” and said that the story, overall, worked very well. She gave a perfect sandwich of positives, critiques, and positives.
Finally, a publisher signed me on, and I danced in the light of all this acceptance.
Woohoo! I can make my parents proud and can establish my permanent place as the first-born–the blemish-free overachiever that sweats oduer de rose and excretes well-shaped pepita de oro. (and apparently writes in French in Spanish like a pretentious twerp)
Then I got my first review. A very honest, biting critique that pretty much gave only one positive amid much criticism: my penis jokes. For the clean-cut oldest child, receiving only affirmation for raunchy humor cut deep. It made me want to dive headfirst into a vat of chocolate-chip cookie-dough ice cream, where I can only save myself by eating and crying my way out.
But that’s the essence of publishing…and that’s why this process has been so important to me.
I like to believe I’m “good at everything.” Certainly, I’m not. I’m adequate at many things. Good at a few. And turrrrible at many others. I am thankful our Church’s music blares like 80’s arena rock. If not, the monkey farts that I call singing would be heard by more than just the Lord.
I also avoid doing things I’m bad at.
Random tangent…Yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition, but how utterly ridiculous does this sound: “I also avoid doing things at which I’m bad.”
Yes, I’m a negativity avoider. I swerve away from discomforting experiences. For example, my wife tried to teach me how to drive stick shift. I stalled out twice at two different stop lights then got stuck on an incline. I haven’t attempted it much since then, nor have I tried to drive a motorcycle since wiping out in front of my brother-in-law.
I know this is not a good way of going through life. Thus, I need the pain of experiencing the negatives. I need to thicken my skin and accept my shortcomings as a writer. I need my weaknesses to be exposed like my post-Christmas belly in my high-school t-shirt.
I need reviews.
Because no matter how reflective I think I am, the perceptions of others will dust off my mirror better than anything else. If I am doing something well, the light from their words will compliment my feathery word choices or my perfectly chiseled humor or my tight plot. But the critiques can also show the drooping action, anemic characters, or misshapen ending.
Whatever will be shown, I need to see my words–and by extension, me–in the eyes of the reader. After all, my audience is no longer just me and those people who have literally seen me naked. And if I want to be a better writer, honest feedback is essential.
Even if it is difficult to stomach. Because, yes, receiving criticism is hard. Knowing I’ve disappointed someone is painful. Ruffling feathers and ruining someone’s moment, minute, hour, day, or week gives me anxiety. Feeling like I wasted someone’s time sincerely disappoints me. Even remotely offending someone gnaws at me.
So naturally I decided to write and publish satire. (That’s a different topic for a different blog post, I’m afraid)
Here’s what I’ve learned about myself these past months: I need to be pushed into painful, uncomfortable experiences. Like other artists, I truly do want honest reviews. We all want to grow. We all want to be better at our craft.
But please be constructive. There’s only so much ice-cream we can eat, myself especially–after all, my wife is way cooler and hotter than I am.