The hardest thing about writing is opening up a blank page and seeing all white and no black. And the best thing about writing, as Dorothy Parker said, is having written.
When you’re a newbie writer, you may not relate to Parker’s quote. You might be like I was and think writing is THE only task in life where you disappear for hours and come back with work completed, almost in a daze. Perhaps most jobs you’ve done take a conscious and concerted effort and writing seems unconscious and effortless.
Here’s the downside, this may be true because in the words of Anne Lamott, all you’ve got is a “shitty first draft.” And “shitty first drafts” are like an uncut gem. Underneath all the crap is priceless beauty. But to get to the shiny bauble everyone wants to look at, a lot of crap has to be cut, and it can be a daunting task without good people surrounding us.
This is what a writing mentor reminded me of this week. She said to fill your life with people who build you up. This doesn’t mean that these same people don’t offer truth-as-they-know-it feedback, but it means the feedback will be to reconstruct, not destruct your world or your work.
And you only need a few, but once you have them, make sure to give them water and food. Together you can create life; without them you may wither away and concede to defeat.
Which I have done a time or two…
I’m about to confess an embarrassing truth about myself, something I would never want anyone to know about me, but I think is encouraging for young writers trying to find their way. I quit my first salaried job post college graduation without having another one lined up. After convincing myself that I wanted to be a reporter and that I needed time to either intern or travel for interviews, I gave my notice to my remarkably kind and understanding supervisor.
It took me a year to land what I thought of then as my dream job, a web producer position with reporting potential at a local television news station. I would soon realize two things: It wasn’t my dream and my former boss, not supervisor, told my new boss I was hardheaded, which deeply disturbed my 20-something self, and set me up for a hard season at the new job. I was the breadwinner at the time and there was no quitting, and without one or two co-workers coming along side of me, I wouldn’t have had opportunities for some much needed victories.
That environment and those people prepared me for this…
Fast forward to now and I’m working at home each day, either writing first drafts, revising, or editing other people’s work. No matter the task, I’m doing it alone, and at times, especially when faced with rejection, I can start to feel isolated and discouraged. If not for a few writing friends and mentors, I’d have given up a long time ago.
One such friend reached out to me this week and said it was time for a coffee date. She reminded me that it’s even more important for those of us working from home to make time for “work” relationships. People we can talk shop with, exchange ideas, and troubleshoot challenges we’re facing.
If I’ve learned nothing in the past seven years of writing while staying home with my children, it’s that I need a small network of trusted co-workers/friends who get it. And let me say this, not everyone gets it. Just like a doctor and a landscaper might not understand each others’ day-to-day, those who don’t write can’t be expected to understand what we go through, and that’s okay because your people are out there.
How to find them…
So you might be wondering how a hardheaded, yet strong-hearted woman like me found a few great writer friends? And the answer is, I didn’t seek them out. In fact, each of them came into my life during times when I was authoring and perfecting my messiest debacles. Maybe they saw themselves in my bad bits, I don’t know, but the three women I’m thinking of came along side of me during times of major setbacks, when my reputation was on the line, not during successes.
I can honestly say that most people I’ve met during more successful times left when the failure set in. There are no hard feelings since what I see now is that you don’t need a lot of people around you, you need a few good people, who believe in you as a person. They don’t even have to love your work, just you.
Years ago I wouldn’t have shared these personal stories. I would have thought sharing weakness was inviting judgment, but you know what I’ve learned? I’m my worst critic and judge.
Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird writes that seeking perfection in our writing kills our creativity. I would add that seeking perfection also ruins relationships.
Sharing my terrible first drafts and sharing my personal defeats goes against my tendencies toward perfection in others and myself. And without sharing, I wouldn’t have more polished stories or growing relationships. And I wouldn’t be as comfortable with being uncomfortable as I am today – if that makes any sense?
So for the 20-something writers or the 40-something writers who are at wits end and feel like they’re getting nowhere, don’t give up and don’t be scared. Be yourself, share your work, and don’t be ashamed when you mess up. Admit it, learn from it, and move onto the next draft.
It’s all we can do!