It's not who you are that's holding you back, it's who you think you're not.

Ever sat down at your computer, opened a blank page, and had the thought cross your mind that you have no right to be there? To set words to paper, much less suppose that anything you can imagine will be of any value or enjoyment to anyone else? 

Welcome to the club.

For a certain percentage of writers (if not all of us at least once in our lives, let’s be honest!), we’ve struggled with Impostor Syndrome when it comes to our writing. I’m here to remind you that you’re not alone, and hopefully shed light on some possible solutions, or ways of coping with one of the most nagging messages the Internal Critic plies us with:

You’re a fraud. You’re not a real writer. 

Where does this thought come from? That’s one of the first questions I asked myself when I sat down to write this post today. When have I ever given my brain permission to treat me like a second-class citizen when it comes to my work?

While articles point to personality traits (perfectionism, hello, that’s you) and family background as potential origins of Impostor Syndrome, when it comes to creativity, my theory is a bit different. Think back to the last time you spoke with someone about your writing. Invariably, at some point in the conversation, you were stopped and confronted with the question, “So when are you getting published?” A natural response, but it sets up an expectation in our minds that leads to faulty reasoning deep inside our psyche: to be successful as a writer, or any kind of artist for that matter, our work has to be commercially available on the market. 

Marketability is considered the sum total of artistic achievement in our society. The question may as well be “Isn’t your writing (i.e., art) making any money yet?” 

I don’t know about you, but if I sit down to write with marketability as the first thing on my mind, my fingers freeze on the keys. Maybe some writers can work this way, and that’s great if they can, but my poet’s heart is kindled by a spark. Usually a very tiny one. Often it’s a situation that comes to mind, or a unique setting. A character with an interesting ability or a special kind of magic. A single, powerful image. 

That’s what inspires me to explore the blank page. 

If I sit down to write expecting that what will flow through my imagination to the keys is going to be the next greatest smash hit on the bestseller lists, I’ll clam up tighter than an oyster in its shell. But if I pay attention to the spark that kindled my creative curiosity from the outset, working to develop the concept into a full-blown story with a plot, a meaningful theme, and colorful characters on a life-changing quest of discovery, then I can write. 

I think Impostor Syndrome strikes when we are trying too hard to squeeze our writing into a successful mold, one we believe will be the ticket to seeing our words in print. I’m not talking about genre conventions, or writing to capture an audience with specific preconceptions about what they like to read. Those steps come later in the developmental process. What I am talking about is allowing the notion that we are unworthy to write to keep us from approaching the page in the first place. Not everything we write needs an audience, at least not right away.

If Impostor Syndrome is something you face routinely, or even if you’ve had the feeling you want to write, but think no one would want to read what you write, here are some tips:

  1. Question the Internal Critic. Every time a negative thought about your writing pops up, ask yourself if there’s any basis of truth to the statement. What have you been told about your writing in the past, and what steps have you taken to improve your craft? Are there external factors that might be contributing? Is this thought helpful or is it damaging self-talk? 
  2. Reshape your thinking. When given fair criticism of your writing, be open to alternate interpretations. Although criticism can be viewed as an attack, it’s much healthier to adopt an open mind as to how other readers perceive your work and will only serve to enrich your future writing.
  3. Keep track of your successes. Rejection comes with the territory and if we’re not careful, it can bury us. Remind yourself of the times your writing resonated with a reader, or your editor congratulated you on a job well done. Keep these memories in your writing space and review them often.
  4. Talk with your writing buddies. If you don’t have a community of writers you can share your struggles with, find one. Local writing groups, online critique sites, and writer’s conferences are all good places to start building those relationships. When you have a bad writing day (or week), these are the people you can turn to for sympathy and support.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Extending the same level of compassion to yourself as you would to another writer is vital. A good litmus test when I’m down on my writing is to ask myself, “Would I talk this way to another writer about their work?” If the answer is no, it’s time to ease up on the self-reproach. Self-care is essential to approaching the page without anxiety. For me, that means lots of yoga, time spent outdoors or in self-reflection, and journaling out my feelings. 

Impostor Syndrome is real and its effects can be devastating if we allow it to drive a wedge between us and bringing our ideas to life on the page. Thankfully, it can be overcome with lots of hard work, steady vigilance, and a supportive community of writers who understand and can sympathize. 

Do you struggle with feeling like a fraud? Have you ever allowed criticism of your writing, whether your own or someone else’s, to keep you from writing? If so, drop me a line and let’s chat. I’d love to help work through our creative struggles together!

 

Labyrinth of the Spirits cover art

 

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is, quite frankly, the best book I have read all year. My advice is to cook a weeks’ worth of meals ahead of time, shut off your phone’s ringer, and get real familiar with your couch or the coziest seat in your reading nook. Once you pick up this fast-paced, heart-pounding thriller, you will be glued to the pages, I guarantee it. Although it’s the final installment in a four-part series involving the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, the stories are meant to be read in whatever order you wish to consume them.

Twenty years after the bombing of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War in 1938, Alicia Gris still bears the emotional and physical burdens of that tumultuous and violent time. Ready to forge a new life for herself after working as an investigator in the Madrid secret police for the last decade, she is given one final assignment: to solve the disappearance of Spain’s Minister of Culture, Mauricio Valls.

Together with her police partner, Vargas, the two set out on a dangerous mission that will ultimately expose a series of grisly murders and kidnappings linked directly to Franco’s regime in post-war Barcelona. The closer they come to finding Valls, the more treacherous the threats become, leading them through the dark labyrinth of Barcelona’s streets and into an even darker period of corruption in its history.

Alicia is gritty and sassy, not to mention beautiful and dangerous. She refuses to trade the truth for a lie and it is my firm belief that she will win your heart by the end of this novel, as she did mine.

Whether or not you choose to read the other three books in the series is up to you. This is one I would refuse to pass up. If you decide to read it, drop me a line. I’d love to fangirl over Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n with you. He is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest authors of magical realism of our time.

Pen Ball Point Paper Crumpled  - steve_a_johnson / Pixabay

 

The dreaded blank page. A cursor blinking in time to the beat of your heart, every stroke a missed opportunity to lay down another word, to piece together the story in your mind and bring it to life on paper.

We joke about “writer’s block,” or worse yet, live in fear and trembling of when it might strike us as writers. Can the well of inspiration run dry? Is it possible to run out of ideas, or at least what we consider the good ones? Is it a disease, something requiring treatment or long periods of self-evaluation and inner reflection?

Although numerous studies have been conducted to elucidate the causes and potential remedies for writer’s block, I won’t enumerate those here. Instead, I’ll offer my honest opinion about creative blockage from personal experience. 

Writer’s block exists to the extent that I allow it to control my decision whether or not to write that day. I don’t mean to sound simplistic, but it is as simple as the decision to say “yes” or “no.” I can always write something, whether it’s a journal entry about how I’m feeling or a few scribbled notes about a story idea or plot element I’m working on. 

The important thing is that I say “yes” to my writing, every day.

I don’t mean to imply that the “yes” is easy. Sometimes it is, often it isn’t. 

For me, the “blocked” feeling hits as soon as I start to either a.) worry excessively about following the perceived “rules” of writing or b.) worry about what others will think of what I’ve written. In other words, the more self-conscious I become about the work I’m doing, the more likely I am to freeze in fear of not measuring up. I lose the joy of what captivated me about the idea in the first place, and I get hung up on the externals. My internal love for the story falters, and I slip. 

This might sound like a jump, but bear with me. Learning about different brainwave states felt revelatory for me shortly after incorporating yoga and meditation into my life and writing routine. In short: 

Beta state is where our brains spend most of our waking hours. It’s where we feel most strongly engaged in mental activities and is great for productivity, concentration, increased logic, and critical thinking. However, spending excessive amounts of time in a beta state results in overwhelm, stress, anxiety, and burnout. 

In Alpha state, we are relaxed both physically and mentally. Our hemispheres are synchronized and the brain is fully active. This is the state induced by activities like yoga or meditation, artistic creation, or simply taking a break to go on walk. Here we experience expanded mental clarity and the link between our conscious and subconscious mind exists at its strongest.

I might argue that a feeling of flow comes from being in a deeper Theta state, in which body awareness vanishes and we feel heightened intuition, inspiration, as well as deep-seated peace, contentment, and even bliss.

My point is this: writer’s block exists in Beta state. Trick your brain into Alpha state and you’ve won the battle. Release your subconscious mind from the storm of anxiety that Beta state produces, and it will connect you to the heart of fascination with your story once again.

Here are some practical ways to do this: 

  1. Cultivate a regular habit of ingesting the things that inspire you. When I start to feel dry, I turn to the books, poems, music, or artwork that first inspired the idea of the piece I’m working on. Many times when I encounter difficulties with a story, it’s because I moved quite far away from my initial “mind’s eye” conception of the piece. Returning to what inspired me in the first place can be all the refresher I need to get the writing back on the rails, so to speak.
  2. Try your hand at a new form of writing. Don’t let apathy for your writing set in! If you are starting to feel bored or overwhelmed with your current WIP, turn to a new form of writing, such as poetry, short stories, or flash fiction. A change of pace might be all you need to reignite your motivation for your long-form projects, i.e., novels. 
  3. Don’t take your moods too seriously. I’m serious about this one. *laughs* The wonderful thing about achieving Alpha state is that my mood seems to disappear once I’m there. I may approach the blank page cranky, self-conscious, or even despairing over my writing, but once I immerse in my created world, I’ve forgotten whatever mood I started out in. Every thought and emotion is for the story from there on out.
  4. Be open to wild, new ideas. First drafts are all about exploration, so don’t be afraid to let your imagination loose in this phase of writing. Editing comes later. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, that first draft is for getting your idea down on paper. Don’t lose sight of what initially attracted you to the idea and just write. 
  5. Build a trusted community of readers and critiquers. They will be your cheering squad from the sidelines when you need it! These are the folks you can trust with your work in its early stages. Likely, they will be other readers, writers, or professionals – people who can show you what both the strengths and weaknesses of your work are, and help connect you to the deeper truths you are trying to impart.

“Writer’s block” doesn’t have to be a real thing, not for those of us with stories to tell and words to put to paper. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them. Drop me a line. Let’s see if we can inspire each other in our writing journey! 

The Midnight Library book cover

Guys, this one’s a MUST READ!!! I didn’t know what to expect when I first opened the pages of this story. The blurb on the cover mentioned something about a magical library and one character’s journey as she is faced with the decision of whether to travel into other lives she might have chosen to lead through the books contained among its shelves…and I was hooked. I wanted to know more.

I quickly discovered that this story is about much more than wishful thinking, however, or even a life lived without regrets. It is a beautifully constructed commentary on life itself, told through the eyes of Nora Seed, an ‘everyman’ heroine struggling to find purpose in a life that is filled with disillusionment, pain, and ultimately, despair. 

Her exploration of the multitude of lives that are hers for the taking teaches her more about herself than she can possibly imagine. With clarity, insight, and at times, humor, Matt Haig will charm you with the adventures Nora undertakes in order to understand what is truly important in life, and why it’s worth living.

Read this book. This is one decision you WON’T regret having made. Your life may change because of it. Or, at the very least, you’ll have a feel-good read at your fingertips. Either way, the choice is yours.

If you do read this one, drop me a line and let me know. I’d love to hear what you think. 

Smoke and Mirrors book cover

I didn’t even have to finish reading this collection before I knew it would be this month’s Book of the Month. Previously I’d read Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, but decided I wanted to delve farther back into Neil Gaiman’s repertoire than this.

I have not been disappointed. But then again, we’re talking about one of the masters of fantasy here. Combined with his keen imagination and clever wit, his artistry and macabre sense of irony will have you rolling with laughter one moment and shivering with goosebumps the next. 

One of my personal favorites is “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale,” a story written in homage to the late John Collier, in which a bargain-hunting city dweller, Peter Pinter, finds himself in need of an assassin. He searches the Yellow Pages and, to his surprise, finds exactly what he is looking for. On discovering that the company offers special discounts on large orders, Peter’s thrifty side kicks in. He cannot refuse a good deal, and hilarity ensues.

With his deft touch, Neil Gaiman will have you believing in the existence of magic amid the mundane: the Holy Grail available for purchase at a thrift store, a life-bartering troll antagonizing a young boy from underneath a bridge by the railroad tracks, and a cat imbued with angelic properties who stops at nothing to defend his humans from the supernatural evil threatening their home. 

It’s Neil Gaiman at his finest, guys. Pick up this collection and give it a read. 

Then drop me a line and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear which stories tickle your fancy the most!

 

Key Old Flower Nostalgic Vintage  - 165106 / Pixabay

 

An idea comes to you, one that you love. Maybe you hear a character speaking to you, or you conjure a scenic location. Other times you imagine a situation, a sticky set of circumstances your character finds him or herself in. You know your idea will make excellent story fodder. You start writing only to find your idea shrivels, warps, or otherwise diminishes despite your best efforts to keep it alive and breathing. 

What happened? Your idea was perfect. Somewhere along the way, it went wrong. You begin to despair. You might even consider throwing away the idea. It must not have been a very good one, you say to yourself.

Don’t. Go. There. 

I am here to tell you that if you love your idea, it is not lost. Ever. 

If you can talk (even to yourself) about why your story idea is cool, you can write it, I promise. The devil is in the disconnect between your brain and the paper. Talking about something is a whole lot easier than writing about it most of the time, isn’t it? That’s because we talk much more than we write. If we wrote as much as we talked, how much easier would the writing come? 

All writing is translation work. 

Ideas arise from our subconscious, and we aren’t used to putting the work of our subconscious into words. It’s a function of our minds we take for granted most of the time, the backdrop to the more discursive thinking we engage in during waking hours. Reason, logic, the passing details of life – these are what our brains focus on. The work of our intuition is largely drowned out, or even worse, invalidated by ourselves or others.

Translating the work of our intuition into words feels difficult, if not foreign, at first. Just as we wouldn’t expect to understand a new language the moment we set foot inside a foreign country, we can’t expect the first expression of our idea on paper to be perfect. 

Drafts will lead us closer to the finished product, but even then, we might feel our work doesn’t do our idea justice.  This is where the old adage “practice makes perfect” comes in. I didn’t say it up front because it’s something none of us likes to hear.

Yet the practice of writing is exactly what will allow you to narrow the gap between the lively, colorful idea you visualize in your mind and how well you are able to express your inspiration on paper.

Allow me to enumerate the following wonderful benefits of committing to your writing on a regular basis:

  1. Quiets the Censor. We are all familiar with the Censor, that nagging voice within that tells us our writing is rubbish and we’re wasting our time. One of the many benefits of engaging in any creative activity is that it alters the frequency of our brainwaves to a deeper, more meditative state. With this change in state comes an enhanced ability to focus, innovate, and reach “flow.” As a manifestation of the rational mind, the Censor can’t compete with the power of our subconscious, and he shuts up.
  2. Builds confidence. The more I write, the more I realize how much I am capable of writing. I don’t throw away ideas anymore, I make note of them. Often, these snippets or impressions will work their way into a future story, or provide a springboard for future brainstorming. 
  3. Takes less time to immerse. I still have days when I stare at the page for an hour or two until I re-orient myself with my current work-in-progress, particularly if I have been away from it for a few days. That being said, I’ve largely replaced the irrational fear that my unwritten story will vanish into thin air with the practiced knowledge that it is always waiting for me behind the page whenever I next sit down to work on it. My subconscious is always at work and never takes a day off.
  4. Becomes a healthy addiction. A funny thing happens when you get into the habit of writing regularly. You begin to miss the page terribly. Flow state is addictive because it is so regenerative. You will crave the sensation of it, over and over. It is life-giving and life-sustaining to your spirit. Who wouldn’t be drawn to this kind of work when this is the payoff? In the words of Robert Hass, “The only tolerable state is having just written.”
  5. Allows you to take on new challenges. Watching yourself grow and develop over time is exhilarating. The more you commit to mastering the craft of writing, accepting the critique of your mentors and peers, and applying what you learn to your projects, the closer you will come to finding your voice on the page. Knowing what is possible opens your mind to new ways of expressing yourself, be it writing poetry, short fiction, or novels. 

I hope I have inspired you to listen deeply to the voice within, the one feeding you ideas and inspiration that you long to express in written words. No idea is too small or insignificant if it is speaking to your heart. Trust in the power of your intuition and work to being your idea to fruition, one word at a time, no matter how long it takes or how hard the process may seem.

Need some encouragement or a friendly shoulder to cry on? Drop me a line if you’d like to chat. I’d love to hear about whatever idea you’re working on, whether it’s giving you trouble or not. 

Above all, keep writing. The world needs to hear your voice.

Rose Flower Letter Paper Bloom  - Bru-nO / Pixabay

 

How do you know when you’re in love? I remember asking my mother the question as a young girl. Her reply has stuck with me to this day. With a smile that touched her eyes, she tilted her head at me and said, “It’s when you can’t imagine living your life without the person you love.” 

My fellow readers and writers, romance aside, I can honestly say I feel the same way about my writing life. Over the past five years, I have grown so accustomed to incorporating writing into my daily routine, I cannot imagine life without it. 

Sure, I was nervous when I first came to the page, with all the same butterflies-in-my-stomach and jittery nerves we associate with our first crush. Although those feelings haven’t necessarily subsided, a deeper commitment has flowered instead, replacing my initial fears about exposing myself and becoming vulnerable with a more rock-solid truth. 

The page is no judge.

No matter what kind of day you’re having, how you feel about yourself, how you perceive your writing, what your word count is, or what the critics are saying, the page will never judge you.

That’s right. You can come to the page and write no matter what shape your spirit, or your body, is in, or how creative you feel. As with any good relationship, communication is key. The only mistake you can make as a writer is not to write. 

Don’t make the same mistake I did.

I can’t bring back the twenty years I lost when I silenced my creative half, but I can make the commitment to never again seal off my inner artist from the light of day.

The page gives me plenty of reasons not to leave. The romance is real. Here’s why:

  1. Writing helped me deal with past traumatic events. My first novel was as much a spiritual journey in overcoming grief as it was a creative endeavor. I could never have predicted the psychological benefit I gained by tackling a tragic loss through the lens of fiction. Free to explore a range of emotions and reactions through my main character, I reshaped the traumatic incident inside a fictional world. The exercise gave me time to process what had happened in an environment where I would not be judged. It also allowed me to re-frame the memory in a new context, one where I was less self-conscious and more self-determining. In other words, by giving me complete liberty to explore my feelings and responses, the process of novel-writing led me to a sense of closure or resolution.
  2. Writing increases my sense of well-being. Writing is as stress-relieving for me as yoga! Both require me to function in a meditative state, which blocks out the “noise” of anxiety and other daily stressors. Keeping a daily journal illuminates the myriad reasons I have to be grateful every day, and allows me to chart my progress as a writer. Gratitude breeds happiness. Achieving goals produces a sense of accomplishment. Happiness, gratitude, and feelings of success (even the smallest ones!) give us an assurance of hope, something I know we can all use more of!
  3. Writing releases me from my fears. The act of enumerating my fears on paper is often all it takes to silence them, or at the very least, break them up into a more manageable state. Recording what I am afraid of allows me to externalize the fears, which then allows me to consider ways of dealing with them, if not eliminate or discount them altogether. Fear is often bigger in our minds than it strictly needs to be. Writing down what scares us can be the first step to disarming fear’s control over us.
  4. Achieving a flow state is addictive. Ahhh, flow! I like to think of it as my creative high. Flow happens whenever I am so absorbed and enthralled by what I am creating, the world around me disappears and all sense of time evaporates. Similar to any other meditative state, daily concerns vanish and I am one with the page. Once you experience it, this sense of unity with the imaginative realm is not only intoxicating, it’s downright addicting. You just want more…and more…and more…
  5. Writing helps me learn more about myself…and connect with others. I cannot conceive of a better way to learn more about my inner self and what I am capable of than by committing to a life of writing. When I write, I am wholly free: free to examine my thoughts, free to explore the depths of my feelings about the hardest issues I am confronted with in life, and free to express what I discover. In many ways, I am more “me” when I am writing than when I am doing anything else. Writing also acts as a vehicle to connecting with others when I share what I’ve written, and they feel free to share what they have written in return. 

Are you desperate to rekindle a love for your writing that you feel you’ve long since lost? Maybe you’re a seasoned veteran of the page who can offer some timely advice about your writing journey.

Regardless of the state of your relationship with the page, whether tattered or inspired, drop me a line and let’s chat! I’d love to hear what incites your love for words and the stories we weave from our lives. 

The Name of the Wind book cover

The Name of the Wind is epic fantasy at its finest, guys. Rothfuss is a master storyteller, spinning a tale that will leave you breathless until the last page. Imagine a combination of Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, and Robert Jordan, and you can pretty well imagine how an adventure with the multi-talented and fiercely intelligent hero, Kvothe, is going to proceed.

The story opens with Kvothe, innkeeper of the Waystone Inn, reciting the history of his life for Chronicler. We soon learn that Kvothe has a colorful background as a trouper with a surprisingly hidden skill set and a quick wit to match. He will need every ounce of his wits to survive on the crime-riddled streets of Tarbean, and eventually to gain admittance to the University. His magic skills will be put to the test not only by his superiors, but also by a jealous classmate who wants nothing more than to compete with him and humiliate him in front of his peers.

He is a musician at heart and a magician to the core. He is a warrior and a devoted friend. He is proud and resourceful, and deep down he seeks revenge against those who have wronged him and those he loves.

You must join Kvothe in his adventures both in the University, that teaches him how best to utilize his magic, and in the Commonwealth, where his skills are put to the ultimate test against old enemies and dangerous mythical foes that prowl at night.  

I wish I had discovered the Kingkiller Chronicles sooner, but alas, better late than never. The good news is, there are more books in the series, and Rothfuss isn’t finished writing yet. 

If you decide to start reading this trilogy, let me know. I would love to geek out with you about TNOTW!

I was four when my sister taught me to read. The first book I read by myself was Green Eggs and Ham. Who among us doesn’t remember the rhymes, the whimsy, the host of zany creatures and off-kilter worlds when thinking of Dr. Seuss?

This month’s pick took me back to that same feeling I had when I first read Dr. Seuss. Walter Moers is like a cross between Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss for adults. Along with his fabulous story-telling skills, he’s an amazing artist. The author’s detailed pencil illustrations grace the pages of Optimus Yarnspinner’s literary adventure to the fabled city of Bookholm. 

Optimus may be young by dinosaur standards, but he is an aspiring writer nonetheless. His godfather has bestowed on him an unpublished manuscript by a mysterious, unknown writer. After reading the manuscript, Optimus is desperate to uncover the author’s identity.

He sets off on an adventure to Bookholm, the City of Dreaming Books, in order to find out. Along the way, he discovers hidden dangers awaiting him at every turn, chasing him deep into the hidden catacombs below the city on his perilous quest. Will he track down the manuscript’s author and what will that discovery teach him with regard to his own future as a Zamonian writer from Lindworm Castle?

This is a fantasy unlike any I’ve ever read. I hope you indulge me on this one. You won’t be disappointed. 

The drawings alone were enough to reel me in. I’m itching to read the next Zamonian adventure by this incredible author and cartoonist!

If you pick up this treasure, let me know. I’d love to hear what you think!

Woman Help Rescue Dangerous  - Dieterich01 / Pixabay

 

I woke up to one of the harshest reviews I’ve received about my writing to date. It was a doozy, let me tell you. If you’ve ever put yourself out there artistically and endured a scathing critique in response, this article is for you. It hurts, I know. 

It hurts a lot. 

First came horror, then the cannonball of dread started sloshing around in my stomach. They hated it. My writing is rubbish. I gulped and kept reading the same savage critique of hours of hard work and imaginative labor on my part; the slash marks, the contemptuous disdain of my artistic intent in favor of qualifiers like “banal” and “cliche.”

Sadly, my immediate thought was: If my work is this bad, I shouldn’t even be writing.

Thankfully, this was a privately sought-out review on a public forum, and not my editor or a trusted beta reader. That doesn’t change the fact that I had some serious emotional and mental labor to undertake in order to dig myself out of a nice, little, pity-shaped hole the critique had constructed for me.

Dear friend, I hope this never happens to you. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. And yet, I know as well as you do that for better or for worse, harsh critiques come with the territory. Part of releasing our work into the world is  being willing to accept the opinions that come along with it. Evolving as an artist involves taking enormous risks. 

Let me share with you what I believe true constructive criticism looks and feels like. I am fortunate and blessed to have established a working relationship with a wonderful editor over the past two years. Her editing model exemplifies the heart of true criticism, as defined:

criticism (n.): the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.

Balance is key. What initially attracted me to my editor was her ability to highlight which aspects of my writing “work” and more importantly, why. That way, when she exposes weaker or faulty elements (and why they aren’t working), I already have the assurance of knowing there are specific strengths to my writing. It isn’t all bad. 

A good editor or critique partner knows this, or at least they should. Not all of them do, though. What are you supposed to do when your precious, mewling, still-in-its-infancy word baby gets raked over the coals and hacked to pieces? Take shelter in your blanket fort? Cry for days? It’s tempting, believe me.

I prefer to spare you from either of these less-than-ideal fates by offering the following tips. 

  1. Accept that pain is inevitable, a fact of life lived with other humans. No one escapes. This may sound harsh, and indeed it is, but bear with me. A well-known writer phrased this idea in terms of boxing. Boxers train to fight. They don’t set foot inside the ring afraid to get hit. If they did…well, they probably shouldn’t be boxing. If you ain’t in the game to win, get out of the ring. He’s right, in that sense. Unfortunately, we have to prepare ourselves to take some hits if we’re brave enough to put our work out there in the first place. That’s life on planet earth with other human beings, and not all humans are nice. (Shocking, right?)
  2. Recognize the reviewer’s bias. Easier said than done when you’re freshly wounded. However, it’s a point worth considering as early as possible, so you can shake off the rejection and move on with your writing life. Maybe they were taught to critique this way. Or maybe they’ve had someone treat their work similarly and they feel like doling out what they’ve endured. Possibly they’re just plain mean, angry, dissatisfied with life, narcissistic, you name it. They’re coming to the table with pre-programmed baggage as a writer, none of which is your problem or (possibly) lack of talent as a wordsmith.
  3. No one has the right to make you feel like you shouldn’t write. I repeat, NO ONE. (Block them if they do.) Neither of my previous points were intended to make you feel like you should continue to subject yourself to unfair or overwhelmingly negative critiques. This is not what true critiques are intended to be or how they should make you feel. By all means, if you have an editor who treats your writing this way (God forbid!), find a new one. The same goes for beta readers or other reviewers, including family members. If they cannot give you a balanced opinion, block them or request that they not ask to evaluate your work.
  4. Cultivate readers/reviewers who can judge your work in a balanced and fair manner. You know when your work is being treated fairly because you won’t experience that gut-wrenching feeling of despair. Yes, the piece may need an entire rewrite or painful surgical cuts may be required, but you’ll know that your reviewers saw what you intended to do and they’ve fueled you with the means to go about achieving that in a better, more effective way. They are interested in connecting you with your work on a deeper, more authentic level than the one you were able to portray.
  5. Take the time you need to learn from your mistakes. Stay open-minded. After the initial shock of a harsh critique wears off, you may glean a good deal of useful information from it. Give yourself the time and space to identify what that might be. 

The primary lesson I learned from my tough critique was this: write from the heart. In all honesty, my piece was purely experimental. I was writing in a genre I don’t characteristically read, but on top of that, I wasn’t deeply emotionally invested in the particular story I had chosen to tell. 

My readers picked up on that. There was a false note about what I had written and it came through in the manner of critiques I received about the work. 

When I dealt with that realization, the spectrum of advice I received shifted into perspective for me. Although some of the reviewer’s thoughts were harsher than they strictly needed to be to serve as good critique, the take-home message was the same: I wasn’t that into my idea, and it showed. 

So, I’m heading back to the drawing board for that particular story. Anyone else with me? Got any tough critiques you’re having a hard time swallowing?

Drop me a line. I’d love to chat about getting past creative “bumps in the road” on your artistic journey!