In my first year of college I had an English professor who gave us a short story writing assignment. I loved writing, so naturally dove in and really poured my soul into it. However, regardless of how great I thought my piece was, I was loathe to turn it in even though it was my best work thus far. My professor noticed my angst. When she asked what was wrong, I told her how nervous I was for anyone to read my story. She told me, “Your book is your baby”. How right she was! I left it on her desk feeling like I had left a little part of me with her. I felt doubtful, overprotective of my story; ready to defend it from anyone who criticized it, like a mama bear. And I thought; would she understand it? Would she “get” me as a writer?
I always wanted to become a novelist but how was I to do so if I over-scrutinized my work for flaws and could not take criticism, constructive or otherwise? And any time I got an A instead of an A+ on my writing I felt chagrined. As writers we have a complete dependency on our readers (aka critics) so if I were to have a chance in hell to write professionally, I would need to get a thicker skin and have a mind that stayed open to feedback. It is easier said than done,of course. We think our stories are near perfect so how are we to embrace helpful criticism and not lay bleeding over what isn’t ?
Years went by and many stories later I hit a certain milestone in my life where I finally emerged from my theoretical hole to face my fears. Twenty years had gone by since that college English class and thereafter I had written tomes of material, all neglected due to my fear of criticism and rejection. I finally said “Who the hell cares!?” I was going to get negative feedback sometimes. People weren’t always going to get me. And sometimes I would have to go in and change some of the content of my writing while still keeping the integrity of my work true to my style. I needed to learn to grow from exposure, not shrink back into that shell of protection and ultimately, stagnation.
Happily I have published a work of mine recently and true to what I predicted, I received a range of feedback which I used to tweak my manuscript. It took some self-talk and open-mindedness to accept suggestions on my writing but learning to rise above those feelings of uncertainty and protectiveness for my material has been a treasured strength. As writers, each of us has a place in the literary world- there is room for all of us! And our books will always be our “babies” but they have the potential to be our best works if we take the criticism with the compliments as equal in value.