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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why Writers Need to Protect Fragile Beginnings...


It happened like this...
I shared three chapters of new work to someone I trust. That person finished reading my words, and said...nothing. NOTHING! Finally, I prompted my reader for a response.
"I want to think about this..." was all I got.
The next day the reader told me how disappointing my ideas were. The reader went on with a laundry list of "I thought you were going to...and I had envisioned." Yes, I could see a few valid criticisms, and a few ways that my work might improve, but somehow, sadly, all the joy had gone from my project.
I walked the beach and tried to re-kindle my enthusiasm. I ate a lot of carbs not on my diet. I tried to read a book. I tried to nap. No luck.
Mainly, all I want to do is cry.
My reader said, "I think you're putting too much on me. YOU are being unfair." 
And then I found this quotation from Apple's CEO Tim Cook, talking about Steve Jobs:
And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.

Yep. Squished. That's what I'm feeling. Squished. Squashed flatter than a bug. Like all the wind has gone out of my sails.

So what have I learned from this? (And yes, I know I'm jumping from one POV to another in my list below. Sorry!)

1. Be very, very careful about sharing ideas with other people. Unfortunately, they can become too invested--and this leads other people to have a false sense of ownership. There's a huge gap between sharing an idea for a book or story and writing the thing. Trust me on this. When you share with other people, it's very easy for them to "think" they are co-creators. Unless that's part of the agreement up front, it's only wishful thinking on their part. I am the artist. I am the creator. They just offered a bit of inspiration. I'm doing the heavy lifting. They aren't. (This is exactly why so many people WANT to write a book and so few do. A book is more than a couple of ideas. A lot more. Most people can't handle the long haul.)

2. Do NOT hand your work over to people who have no respect for the creative process. You know who they are. Although my reader's comments had merit, the delivery system was flawed. Toxic even. I once had a boss who was wonderful with creative folks. He knew that we had to be given a wide berth when we were in the incubation period. He knew that we needed guidance rather than criticism. He came to our presentations with an open mind and no preconceptions. If our work didn't match what he might have expected, he would say, "Explain to me why you're taking this tack." When we strayed, he'd say, "I think the piece could benefit from a bit more blah-blah-blah.'" He was very, very good at getting the best out of us.

3. Learn to say, "Next!" and move on. I'm not going to let this ruin a perfectly joyful experience. So I picked the wrong person to let read my work. That doesn't mean I picked the wrong project. That doesn't mean my ideas stink. 

Which leads me to...

4. Realize that you are stronger than this. I need to remind myself that few people have the courage and the drive to see things through from idea to creation. I do. I will. That's part of my gift. No one can take that from me. 

And so I'll take a shower, rinse off the nega-cooties and get back to my writing. Boo-ya!

I'm curious. Have you had a similar experience? How did you cope?

13 comments:

Pamela Hargraves said...

I know what you mean, I am not a writer but I am a quilter and like writing that is a creative process. I have learned to be very careful who I share my ideas with, that silence is like a knofe to the heart and causes all kind of self doubts. Now unless I can show it to one or two trusted people I guard my creations until they have started to really develop.

Ellen said...

Joanna,believe in yourself and go on. Even though you want to have others appreciate what you do, and welcome constructive criticism, you know what you intended to do/say. I have been criticized by others for what I know were good ideas, and I found out that jealousy was at the root of all of it. You must shake it off. You have a gift that most of us do not. You are willing to share that intellectual property with your readers. Don't let anyone diminish it.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

You both are so kind. I'm shaking it off! I don't think the criticism was meant unkindly. I just think the person isn't good with creative types.

Mollie Bryan said...

A good beta reader is very hard to find. I've had similar experiences. I too have found jealousy to be the root of much of the negativity. I've gotten to the point that I don't share until a book or a story is finished and I've found I have to be very specific about what I want.

Anonymous said...

Next time, send it to me to read, I love everything I've read from you. Wrap yourself in the knowledge that sometimes what a person says about you may more accurately reflect them than you. If someone calls you a horse you don't go buy a saddle. You realize they aren't really seeing you clearly.
Clearly you are brilliantly gifted and work very hard to create quality that inspires the hearts and minds of others. from a very grateful Karen Rushton

Linda said...

Joanna, the other day you asked what do you dowhen you are blue, and I thought "I'd curl up and reread a book written by you! So don't forget all us fans out here who love the way you write. Some people think there is only one way to do anything. They only see black and white. They can't be creative like you.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Mollie, you are right, and that's why I generally avoid critique groups. Sigh. This wasn't a critique group. And some of the comments were valid, but the delivery was AWFUL.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Karen, you are too sweet. It wasn't even ready for a "real" reader, but I'll keep your kind offer in mind.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Linda, I think that's a poem! You made me smile and lifted my spirits! Woohooo!

Anonymous said...

Hi it is Suzy. I agree that for that person it was not the story for her....but... we cannot always 'get' what the author is trying to say. There is a place for stark truth, but there is a right and wrong way of delivering the truth. Perhaps as your friend sees things, they expected you to want their honesty, that it was something you valued. I am sure that is what you wanted/expected. Sadly, they delivered it in a way that hit you at your core. It was your considered creation...like a pregnancy if you like to think of it that way. You will recover , you are strong, you are a woman to be admired. You do not seek pity or accept it.
You really need affirmation of your value and your talent.....no-one can deny or doubt your worth as a person, friend and author...so don't you dare to do that.
hugs x x x

Kaye Barley said...

Oh, Joanna. I hate this for you. I think some people are better at delivery than others and yes, I had one "early reader" for Whimsey that I'm now so sorry I trusted. Her "critique" started off - "Oh, Kaye, I so wanted to like this." I was crushed and I'm still immensely bothered by it. The others were very professional and helpful. But. Truthfully - no more early readers for me. (and you're being way more generous than I'd be).

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Kaye., I work hard at being generous because it does not come easily to me.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Suzy, I tried to post your comment earlier, but my iPhone said it didn't support the technology. (WHO KNOWS WHAT goes on in techno-reality?)

I wanted to say thank you--and that all of these comments have inspired me to write a new blog post.