Tuesday, November 5, 2013

It's Just Words on Paper

I had a writing teacher named Dr. Dorner who tried to tell me that we should be able to separate writing emotionally, like work.  Like a job.  Sure, work can be personal too, but mostly, we go home and talk about our bad days and maybe even talk about the jerks who can't appreciate whatever it is that we do.

Dr. Dorner said that writing should be like that: separate it out from the rest of your life and know that some will appreciate it and some won't.  Go home and crab about it.

Then live the rest of your life.

I remember how awesome Dr. Dorner seemed.  She impressed me with her vast knowledge about D. H. Lawrence, Victorian writers, modernism, Jane Austen, and so many other things.  She never missed class, and she never had a bad lecture or a bad class.  Her voice was even a little impressive with her lilting, distinctive enunciation, and when her wire-rimmed glasses slipped down her nose a bit, she might tip her head back a little to see you better, while arching her narrow eyebrows a bit.

Then, after I had a couple of different classes with her, I got to know her a little better.  She told me stories about when she was in school.  She told me about searching the parking lot outside the bar to find change on Sunday mornings to buy food for the week.  She told me about waving at the impressive graduate teachers right before she walked into a tree.

I loved those stories.  They made her seem more human to me after the classes in which she seemed to know everything.  Nothing seemed to bother her or flummox her.

Now, I wonder if she told me about trying to keep the personal from writing was something she knew about--it probably was.  I suspect every writer struggles with this on some level because writing becomes a part of who we are.  More than that, when you are a writer like me and so many other writers, scrounging for time between jobs/family/friends/obligations to write for a few minutes, writing becomes almost literally your own blood, sweat, and tears.

The money doesn't matter.  It becomes something that you need to prove to yourself and the world.  It's a part of who you are and a part of your spirit.  Writing it down is like getting down all the struggles and the hopes and dreams and fears that you have, even if other people have the chance to judge the work you create.

So, like Keith was talking about, when someone criticizes our work with a smug grin on their face--even if they are right about all of it--the words affect us.  It seems like they are looking for the chinks in our souls to drive in burning, dull spoons to twist them around--a lot.

But Dr. Dorner was right.  We have to find a way to separate it.  It's just work.  It's just words on paper.  It's just business, no need to take it personally.  Right?

1 comment:

  1. Another age old conundrum, isn't it? We all can remember those first few times our writing lay naked before a stranger--or at least someone not our spouse or best friend, and at least someone who was also a writer--and felt our heart race as they gazed at our baby and nodded and said "Congratulations. You must be so proud. Too bad this thing is so ugly and is clearly far from overly intelligent. Shame on you!" Or at least that may be what we thought they said or meant, since the sting was probably just as painful.

    Yet, if one is to become the best writer one can be, we must progress beyond that sting--even though as we've said, even a seasoned writer can feel a touch of that sting when the criticism penetrates deeply enough, and that usually occurs when the comment hits the bullseye of something we know we've been deluding ourselves about!

    So, the sting never totally disappears, yet we have to remember that good criticism is the greatest gift a writer can ever receive. Pure business? Of course not, yet is IS business to the extent we will grow as writers and improve our work in direct proportion to how we receive and assimilate that businesslike criticism--especially the most stinging.

    So, that person with the smug grin--or maybe a smile the writer simply took for smugness given the sting of the comments the writer realized are accurate--becomes the focus of our thoughts about the critique...while the rightness of their comments falls not to the secondary but to the almost forgotten. What power we've just granted that person! And what a waste we've made of their work in reading and annotating our words!

    So, tough as it may be, isn't the key to accept the "business" of the comments--especially those most penetrating--to say a gracious thank you, and dismiss the ass's personality (perceived or real) as their own problem rather than holding it close to our chest, savoring our disdain for them and forgetting that their comments can improve our work?

    In Keith's situation, the critique was delivered in a black and white, disdainful manner, with the bottom line message being that the writer was wasting everyone''s time and he should abandon his project. Hardly constructive criticism geared on helping the writer--at whatever level--grow and improve.

    Also, as Keith has mentioned, our workshop group does enjoy and apply a good deal of humor and sarcasm in our discussions, but it's pointed at the writing, not the writer. So, not all business, but certainly plenty!