When I was a teenager, I knew everything about writing. Didn’t we all? Isn’t it amazing how brilliant everyone is at that age?
I’d made it all the way to the last year of high school without anyone criticizing anything I wrote. Thrilled that I could sling together a sentence with something approximating a style, my teachers merely smiled as they gave me perfect marks. (Let’s not talk about my performance in math, which was at the other end of the spectrum.)
Then I met my nemesis. His name was Mr. Dolan, and he was not impressed by my brilliance. He called my efforts at poetry “maudlin” and said the characters in my short stories were more like caricatures.
In today’s parlance, he tore me a new one.
I was furious. Obviously Mr. Dolan wouldn’t know good writing if it hit him over the head. I was God’s Gift to the written word–hadn’t he got the memo? What was wrong with him?
But once my anger subsided long enough for me to stop arguing, some of his criticism began to sink in. Maybe that poem was a tad sappy. Maybe that character could have been fleshed out a little.
As time went on, I was shocked to discover that Mr. Dolan didn’t think I sucked as a writer. He actually thought I had promise. And by pushing me, he did what no easy marker before him ever had–he made my writing better.
By the time I hit college, I was well aware that I didn’t know everything about writing, but I still felt I knew more than most people my age. What a surprise, then, that my next critic was a classmate my own age who’d done far less writing than I had. For whatever reason, the guy had an eye for making my work better. Thankfully, I’d learned a thing or two since high school, and I shut up and listened to what he had to say. (Most of the time.) And just like with Mr. Dolan, my writing improved.
Fast forward many years and many books later. I am besieged with doubt. At any moment, I can tell myself I absolutely suck, that I don’t know a thing about writing, and I’ll believe it.
Last week I received feedback from two people I respect and admire. They’ve read my work before, and whenever they point out a problem, they’re usually right.
But this time, I was sure they were wrong. At first.
The self-doubt began to creep in. The self-doubt that was never there in high school. What if you’re wrong? it whispered. They know more about writing than you do.
I tortured myself. The feedback was wrong for my story, my novel–I knew it. And yet, these people were so smart, so great at making my writing better. Perhaps I should listen to them.
Writers will get tons of feedback over the years. Some will be helpful and some won’t be, and the trick is to know the difference–to trust your own voice. Some of your critics may be older, and more experienced, and smarter than you–maybe they’re even better writers than you.
But will they know your story better than you? Not likely.
I’m not saying we should stop listening to the feedback that will make our writing stronger. But I am saying that once you’ve been in this game for a while and you’ve stopped making all the dumb mistakes you made in the past, you have the power to decide what’s worthwhile feedback and what isn’t.
Just because someone is smarter doesn’t mean they’re smarter about your story.
Sometimes you need to channel your inner teenager. Remember, you are God’s Gift to the written word, and what’s wrong with that beta reader anyway?
Have you ever received feedback from a trusted source that seemed like it came from the left field? Have you ever doubted yourself when you’ve disagreed with a critic? How did you learn to trust your own voice?
The Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!