“I made something you will probably like!”
I hear those happy words quite often from my little girl. They perfectly express the feeling I had the first time I offered up my writing to public scrutiny. I had been writing for years for myself. One day, I stumbled across a place online that wanted to post things like I had been writing. I was pleased to share, thinking that if these things had made me so happy, there was a good chance that they would make someone else happy, too.
And they did. I read comments, I received emails. People were reading, and they liked what I had made. So I made more. For two years, I wrote weekly, sharing freely, loving every moment. I loved sitting down in front of a blank screen, letting my mind wander until it hit upon an idea. I loved the scramble of words that flowed onto the page inside-out, backwards and inversed. I loved pulling the threads of my ideas, gently picking loose the knots and straightening the strands until I had exactly what I wanted to say on the page.
One day, I got an offer. Someone wanted a book of my little stories.
They sent me an editor.
My first editor, the one who had wanted to post things like I had been writing for myself, had been telling me for two years that she loved my writing and I barely needed to be edited.
The new editor informed me that I was a horrible writer and the only thing I had going for me was an interesting turn of phrase. She told me coldly that if she was going to help me, I needed to understand just how bad I was and how much work it was going to take for me to become even passable. She explained repeatedly that everything I had written was so close to worthless that she didn’t think it could be fixed. She called me multiple times a day for over a month to inform me that she’d read yet another bit of my rubbish and was even less inclined to think I had any talent as time passed.
Frantic to understand how I could have misunderstood so badly what I had been doing for so long, I went back and read each post over and over. The truth was harsh. She was right. I really was horrible. I was not a writer. I had no talent. I read and re-read all those words I had happily and joyfully put together over the years and realized that I had been an idiot to think I knew what I was doing. The people who had said they liked my posts probably didn’t know what good writing was. I felt sorry for them.
I turned down the book deal. The new editor called me several times to assure me that it was a good decision to quit, and to emphasize that she didn’t think there was an editor on earth who could get anything usable from the drivel I had spewed up.
I stopped writing. I was so bad at it that there wasn’t enough time left in my life to get better. I made pretty excuses to people and found a lot of reasons to prove I was right to quit.
It took over a year before a particularly strong and reasonable logical thought finally managed to shove its way up through the thick layers of explanations and justifications I had created in my brain.
I would not have been offered a book if I had no talent.
The day that logical thought grabbed hold of my brain, shoving my pretty excuses to the side to hold my inner eyelids wide, I opened my laptop and started reading my little stories again, pulling them out of their undeserved exile. They weren’t perfect. But I wasn’t talentless. I wasn’t. After a year of wallowing in a file folder on my desktop, my little stories spoke to me as fresh and happy as they had when I had first written them.
I read through them, all two years’ worth, welcoming them back – and welcoming back my writing self as well. Some of the stories are really good. Some of them have really good parts. Some of them need complete reworking. I think the same is true for me. I could have used a few words from the first editor to help me grow. I never, ever needed the second editor. Someplace in between, where constructive criticsm grows – that’s the place for me.
So, here I am. I may make something you will like. I may not. Whichever it is, I’m here. And I’m writing.
I commend you for your decision to write again, after having such a hurtful experience in the publishing business. I have such mixed feelings about publishing in the conventional world. My only experience is receiving rejection letters (or no response at all) to queries and manuscripts. I haven’t had personal attacks. It seems to me, we can put our writing to good use as bloggers. My main goals are to write and be read. If I someday publish and make money off it, so much the better.
Good on you. Objective evidence is always a candle in the darkness.
I feel quite similar. I absolutely loved writing for fun, for myself, and it was a nice value-add that my friends enjoyed it as well. I felt completely happy in that. Once it became about business, the entire paradigm changed. In the big picture, it’s one experience, only one data point, so I choose not to color my while view of the publishing world on it… but it will make me take things slower and ask a lot more questions if anything similar ever happens again.
I had a teacher in high school tell me to not bother with even trying to write creatively. He based this on a single short story I wrote for class which he, apparently, didn’t understand. His approach to telling me this lacked any amount of supportiveness or constructiveness — just exactly what you DON’T do to a 14 year old who is putting him or herself “out there” as it were and sharing a bit of their innermost self through stories or poetry or whatever. Thankfully, this teacher was removed from the classroom soon after this event (not neccessarily beacuse of what he said to me about my story) and the one who replaced him “got it” when she read the piece. She got me involved with further writing projects and solidified the love of writing within me.
Honestly, she was tougher on me than most teachers were with respect to the content and quality of my writing, but her criticisms were constructive and always supportive. It’s amazing how different it is when feedback is given in a way that is respectful compared to when it is given in a way that is just “easy”.
I am glad that you have come back to writing and I hope you never again have to work with someone who isn’t willing to take the time to work with you instead of against you.