Recently I submitted two short stories to my Creative Writing tutor. Sometimes when I submit my work, I have a feeling in my gut that she’s going to like it. When she opens her mouth to tell me what she thinks, I’m waiting for her to confirm my suspicions and tell me that I’m brilliant.
With these two short stories, however, I wasn’t entirely happy with them, and I knew that something was missing. I wanted her help in making them better. But, when she neatly and articulately summarised what was lacking in both of them in her first sentence, it was simultaneously an illuminating and painful experience.
How could I have been so blind? How could I have fallen into the same trap in both stories? Was I becoming so set in my ways already that I was predictable and boring?
The truth is that us writers need feedback and (constructive) criticism in order to thrive. What my tutor told me wasn’t anything I didn’t already know somewhere within me. It was something I didn’t know how to express – something I needed to hear. But, and this might say something more about my ego than the feedback itself, it still stung and knocked my confidence for a moment.
The thing about criticism, when it’s wise and well-intended, is that it often aligns with our own greatest insecurities. I knew that something was missing from these stories, but I couldn’t put a finger on it. My tutor, however? Well she hit the nail on the head within her first breath.
Dealing with feedback can be difficult, but you should always put your pride aside. For me, it wasn’t that I thought my tutor was wrong – it was that I knew she was right. It was annoyance at myself for being so blindsided and, I’ll admit it, a bit lazy in my writing. It was a deep fear that these pieces are going to take a lot of work to reshape and I don’t know if I have it in me to make it into what she wanted it to be. Or what I wanted them to be.
But, of course, it takes that outsider to notice what our work is missing or needs – or what doesn’t make sense. She was able to see it so clearly simply because she hasn’t written it. That degree of separation is vital and what makes passing on your work such a rewarding and helpful part of the writing process.
Today I feel deflated, but tomorrow I’ll feel refreshed and reinvigorated. I must of course acknowledge how lucky I am to have access to a professional who understands my work and is astute enough to know how to make it better. And ultimately, I want it to get better. I want to push myself and challenge the boundaries of what I’ve written before.
It’s going to take a lot of work, but I know it’ll be worth it in the end. When feedback is well-meant, it has the power to completely change how you view your work and where you want it to go. I’ll be excited about these pieces again, I know it. For now, what will help most is some space from them, some reflection about my fragile ego through blogging, and probably a large glass of wine.