Several times in the last couple of weeks, I’ve started a blog post about why I have been struggling to write fiction recently.
Each time I’ve started the post, I’ve stopped because no matter how write out my feelings, it comes out accusatory and whiny, with me alternating between defense and offense.
I know it’s not wise to try to explain something while a hurt is still raw, but my blog readers have been with me through many ups and downs, in my writing and in my personal life, so I feel like I need to share a little with all of you about what has been weighing me down lately. If it comes out as over dramatic to you readers, I totally understand.
A few weeks ago, I somehow got tossed into a situation where a last minute topic was needed for a writing group I was in. Long story short, my writing was tossed up in front of a bunch of people and critiqued as a “learning moment” for other writers.
This type of critique was something I had been avoiding for a while now, but especially recently because of the health issues and personal issues I’ve been going through. The author who conducts the critiques is very good at what she does but she’s also pretty hard on writers and I wasn’t in a good place emotionally for that.
I had explained that to one of the leaders of the group (a very sweet woman with stresses of her own) that I could not currently handle one of her critiques. I can only guess this leader was not fully listening when I expressed the desire to not be critiqued since, much to my horror, my work appeared on the screen during the weekly meeting/presentation. This weekly presentation is held with somewhere around fifty other women in attendance. Lines and red marks were scratched through most of the chapter being shared, with several comments off to the side listing of all my writing sins.
I didn’t ask for this critique. What I had actually suggested for the session was for the author to answer advice on how to handle what critiques on our writing. I had recently received what I felt was a critique, but it was sent privately so that made it easier to digest.
I wanted to know how to choose what to keep and what to dismiss from a critique, especially when it comes from someone who is not a professional author. I thought that my situation would be used to teach others how to handle a critique, not that my work would be critiqued again in a much more public setting. Even though the critique was anonymous, I knew many of the women watching knew the work was mine because I had mentioned my difficulty in processing part of the original critique.
I ended up turning off the second critique before it really got underway after it was launched by several minutes of mocking comments about my choice of metaphors. I did not feel these comments were constructive. Instead they seemed to be setting up what I gathered would be several more minutes of unhelpful comments. The unhelpful remarks continued until I felt like I was openly being mocked by the two women, one with 20 years of experience and another with a few. I knew I was in a poor place emotionally to handle any more mocking.
I turned off the session and tried instead to mentally prepare myself for a doctor’s appointment I had the next day that I hoped would help me with some of my longstanding health issues.
It’s one thing to know that your work is cliché and rather silly but it is entirely different to be told that in front of a group of fellow writers on a live feed while two women cackle and laugh at the absurdity of your writing, while not actually calling it absurd. (Clarification here: it felt like cackling and laughing at me but I’m sure they don’t feel that’s what they were doing. They most likely thought they were being lighthearted and trying to make light of a situation because they were preparing to eviscerate my writing for “educational purposes”.) I had watched this happened the month before to another writer and knew I didn’t want it to happen to me. It was extremely disheartening to see her on a video chat a week later looking completely downtrodden about her writing and like the joy of writing had been completely sucked out of her.
I was told later that I shouldn’t feel bad about my writing flaws because MANY writers do the same thing I did. I felt like I was being told that not only was I an idiot, but I was an idiot among many other idiots.
“You are cliché and silly but so are many authors,” is how I read a “somewhat apology” sent by one of the women in the group after I canceled my subscription. I say somewhat because the apology was more along the lines of “sorry if the critique of your work displeased you.” Yes, the word displeased was actually used. To be honest, it was not the critique that “displeased” me. I never had the chance to hear the critique. It was the fact I was critiqued when I never asked for the critique and that the so-called critique seemed more mocking than instructional.
I received the replay of it all a few days later, hoping to watch it again and see if I had over reacted. I was sure I had because many people have told me over the years that my feelings are wrong, my reactions are wrong, I’m too sensitive, too easily offended, too…whatever I am too much of that day. And sometimes they are right.
Unfortunately, the replay had been edited to remove the critique, as if it had never happened. I would hope that this was out of kindness, knowing I was upset, but I would instead guess it was for self-protection to make sure this author and her writing business didn’t look bad. I really hope my second theory is wrong because I do believe these women truly believe they are writing and serving in the name of Christ.
I would not disparage these women or the writing group based on this situation. Even if they were careless with their words, the program is a good one, offered at an amazing price and it is filled with wonderful Christian women who truly mean well and support each other. This is why I am not naming the group here. I would recommend the group to other writers with one caveat — make sure you communicate better than I did and if you ask for a critique be prepared to be absolutely shredded. That’s okay. The shredding can help you improve after your wounds heal.
In the end, the proof I needed to show myself that I had been overly sensitive was gone. So, there I sat in a weird kind of limbo of wanting to be wrong (because, hey, maybe I really was way too sensitive this time. I can totally own up to that and even now I feel I probably was.) but really not sure since I had no way to confirm what I had actually heard and what else was said after I logged out of the meeting.
Needless to say, all of this has taken a mental toll on me in relation to my fiction writing and why that may not be positive, what has been a positive is that it has brought me back to the path God originally set me on.
Even though the writing group was wonderful in many ways, part of me wonders if by joining it, I overstepped God’s desire for what role writing would fill in my life.
“I never told you to do this,” is the sentence kept popping up in my head when I first joined the group.
I promptly ignored it every time.
After the forth of fifth time this sentence popped into my head, I decided that maybe God was trying to get a message across to me. If he was, what was his message? He never told me to do what? Try to improve my writing? Try to make what I enjoy also something I could make money from – even if it was only a little?
It isn’t that I think God doesn’t want us to improve and get better at what we enjoy doing. What I do think is that for me, God was, and is, saying he never told me to push this writing journey to the point where I hate it as much as I ended up hating photography years ago.
I’ve said before that when it comes to writing I hold on to the words “just have fun.” It’s what drove my writing when I first started sharing it on the blog. I wanted to have fun sharing and connecting with my blog readers, focusing on something other than my medical issues or my loneliness. It served that purpose but then I began to believe that it needed to be something more if it was going to take up so much of my time. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be better at the activity you enjoy but God didn’t ask me to ruin my love of writing while trying to improve.
A lot of Christian authors would say they feel God has called them to write fiction because has called them to change and grow his kingdom with their writing. This may be true — for them.
However, I don’t feel that way about my writing, or at least my fiction. For me writing fiction is about having fun and entertaining a little. Do I want to share messages of hope, redemption and forgiveness in my fiction? Yes. Do I feel like maybe God wants me to do that? I think so, but I also have never looked at my fiction as some grand ordination from God that makes me something special and my writing a gift to humanity. My writing is fun, silly, probably cliché and childish and that’s fine with me.
I think a lot of Christian fiction authors feel their stories and books are going to change the world and maybe they will. I have never felt that way about my writing, though. Could my writing change a few hearts and minds here and there? Yes, I hope so, but like I told a friend this week, part of me feels like God didn’t give me the passion for writing so I can change the world. He gave it to me to help change me first and foremost.
I need to change in many ways, I am the first to admit that. I need to change my attitude and my tendency to be offended, and the way I feel hurt so easily. I don’t think that’s all that needs to be changed in me, though. The change I believe God has wanted me to make is in how I think about life.
He doesn’t want me to see life as something where rules are followed and others are appeased at the sacrifice of my own mental well being. He doesn’t want me to see it as a place where I don’t fit in and I am never good enough. He wants me to see the world as somewhere where we all have our place, even if it isn’t at the front of the crowd or the same place as others. God wants me, and you, to know that he placed us where he placed us for a reason and sometimes that reason may not be as somber or as serious as we think.
Sometimes God places us where he placed us because he simply wants us to have fun, to have joy, to look beyond the challenges and realize that not everything has to be perfect or polished.
Sometimes life and what we do in it simply needs to be fun.
All this being said, I hate that this post sounds like I don’t welcome critiques of my work, especially when I ask for it. I wholeheartedly appreciate the written critique I was given. I was merely trying to process it and how it should lead to changes in my work when the second, more public critique, slammed into me. I will definitely be asking for critiques of my work again in the future and I am open to them, even if they are harsh. Harsh can help me improve. I simply don’t know if I think public harsh criticisms are all that helpful to writers who aren’t career-driven but are instead fun-driven when it comes to their fiction.