Have you ever experienced a time when something you loved suddenly felt like it was ruining your life? I had a moment like that this week.
I decided last minute to enter the first chapter contest for the conference I’m attending in a few months. This was the first time I’d send my little first chapter babies out into the world to see how they fared.
It was awful.
I did find some writers who gave me great critiques. They told me what I was doing right, told me things that confused them or weren’t quite right, and encouraged me. Some of their comments were tough and frustrating, but I finished their notes feeling that with hard work, I could make those chapters into great ones.
I wish I could focus my vision on those critiques. Unfortunately the really harsh critiques were the ones I couldn’t get out of my head.
Just like there are ways to disagree without being disagreeable, there are ways to correct without breaking.
These harsh critiques opened my eyes to that, which is why I’ll be grateful for them. After my first harsh critique, I sat at my computer wondering why I even tried. I was looking at a different writer’s first chapter and (subconsciously) looking for all the bad. Then it smacked me in the face. I was doing exactly what the other critiquer had done to me. I wasn’t seeing that story for its potential, only for its rough draft.
Every story has potential. It doesn’t matter if it’s been told a hundred times. Each writer gives a unique perspective. My job critiquing wasn’t to find every missed comma and confusing element, it was to help this story (well, chapter) and its writer become the best they could be.
I’ve looked at several first chapters since then. Before I dig in I think, “Let’s find all the places this piece shines.” It’s changed the way I edit, and made me love reading others’ drafts.
Yesterday and today, the stress of editing my own work has started to take a toll. The harsh voices from the critiques keep coming back to me. “This makes no sense.” “I don’t connect at all.” “This does nothing for me.” “They’re all flat characters.” Writing, which for so long has been a refuge for me, became the thing I needed refuge from. I’ve been tired, cranky, lazy, and above all I just want to give up. I can’t see a way out, or a way to make writing a blessing again.
This weekend, I’m going to turn off my computer. I’m going to put away my writing, and I’m not going to touch it until Monday. On Monday I’ll close all the edits I received, and sit down for one last push to make those chapters the best I can. Then I’m going to submit and forget.
I know sometime I’ll look back and see how much I learned from this moment. As one of my characters says, “Good always comes from the bad.” I keep repeating her words to myself. Someday I know I’ll see it, but it’s hard to see the blessings when you’re in the middle of a trial.
Have you had a time when something you loved turned into something you hated? I’d love to hear your story.