Being Perfect, Accepting Criticism, and Generally Getting Over Myself

IMG_2703I was in elementary school when I got my first C on a test. It was probably math, because back then I thought I hated math. I got home from school, and sobbed because a C was clearly the end of the world. And my mom sat me down and explained that I didn’t have to be perfect.

I can’t count the number of times she told me that, but it never quite sank in.

I used to be a poor sport, throwing a quiet temper tantrum if I lost a game. Oh, I thought I was holding in my temper quite well, but everyone else knew I was being a big baby. (This was in my 20s.) Still, I’m generally good at everything, so people kept playing with me because I didn’t lose all that often.

Any criticism, even the mild kind, could make me fume for weeks. Because if someone criticized me, clearly they hated me and everything about me, right? The flip side of that is that if I said or did something I perceived as “wrong,” I could obsess over it for weeks as well.

One day, I was getting ready to go play games with my friends, and I thought back to the last time we played. I remembered eating and drinking, making silly jokes and laughing a lot. I remembered who was there and what we played. But no matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t remember who won.

And that was eye-opening for me.

I didn’t get over myself overnight, but that realization started the slow process. Whenever I started to take something too seriously or get upset about it, I’d just ask myself, “Will I even remember this in a month?” If the answer was no, I made myself move on.

Then I started participating in online critiques of my writing, and the old feelings resurfaced. I made myself put the critiques aside for a day or two before responding. And I found that as long as I didn’t respond right away, I could get over my hurt and see that much of the critique was helpful. Not all of it, of course. Sometimes criticism is just a difference of opinion, and I didn’t have to go with it. But if I assumed that everyone who criticized me was coming from a place of genuinely wanting to help me, it made the criticism easier to take.

I know that not everyone wants to help, and that criticism can be malicious. But it’s not my job to sort out other people’s emotions. I just assume everyone has my best interests at heart, and move on. Other people’s negativity doesn’t have to affect me, unless I let it.

It wasn’t until I was in grad school to be a counselor that I realized how much progress I’d made. We all had to tape ourselves doing “counseling sessions” with other students, and then get feedback from our professor in front of the whole class. I really respected this professor, and desperately wanted her praise. But when she saw my video, she picked out all the areas where I could improve.

I felt myself turning red, and those old feelings of having to be perfect wanted to come to the surface. But I told myself to pay attention to what she was saying, really listen, and think about it later when I had time to decide how to feel, and if it was helpful.

When she was done ripping my counseling session to shreds (that’s how it felt, though it probably wasn’t reality because she is a genuinely good human being), one of the other students said, “Wow, that was really amazing. How could you just sit there and take all that criticism? I’d be in tears.”

I took a deep breath and said, “Well, this is where we’re supposed to mess up, right? I’ll learn more from my mistakes than my successes. This way, when I get into the real world, I won’t hurt anyone, and I’ll do it right.” And that tight ball of tension inside me dissolved, because I realized that I meant it.

Criticism is still hard to handle sometimes. And of course, I love praise for a job well done. But regularly attending a writer’s group and having consistent critiques has been a wonderful asset to working on this aspect of myself.  That criticism doesn’t hurt, most of the time. Sure, once in awhile, if I’m having a bad day and feeling emotional, those old feelings try to struggle to the surface.

But I mostly tell them to shut up.

If I’m really having a bad day, I know who I can text to rescue me from negative thoughts. And I also try to write compliments and positive feedback into my journal, so if I’m struggling with negative thoughts, I read over the things people said to me that made me feel good.

And I remind myself not to take it all so seriously. It’s just life, right?

How do you handle criticism?

Feeding My Soul

calico cat with book

Goblyn loves books too!

Once upon a time, I wrote stories and novels just for fun. I typed them up, polished them, and let them languish on my computer. Writing fiction was a job other people did, but not me. I went to work, came home, read books, and wrote stories.

One day, after I’d finished writing my (3rd? 4th?) (bad) novel, my husband looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Why don’t you ever try to get anything published?”

Well, honestly, it had never occurred to me.

This was back in the days before I used the internet for everything. Back before I had a computer in my pocket. So when I first started my journey, it wasn’t like I could just Google “how to get published.” I had to do research and such. I tried sending off short stories and querying agents regarding that really bad novel. And things went nowhere for me. I’d never been critiqued, and I honestly didn’t know I needed to be.

(I’ll tell you about my torrid love affair with adverbs sometime. *shudder*)

See, I’d been praised by teachers all my life for my writing. So I figured that since I did a great job at writing papers, I was good enough at fiction too. I had concentrated on Psychology and Philosophy in college, and hadn’t taken English classes. They bored me, and I figured I had nothing to learn. (Don’t judge… it was the arrogance of youth!)

Eventually, I found online critique groups, and after learning how to take criticism (the subject of Friday’s blog post) my first short story was published for the amazing amount of $50.

I told everyone, and I’m not a “tell everyone” kind of person. Most of my friends were supportive, but one said, “Really? You put all that work in and only got $50? It doesn’t seem worth it. How many hours did you spend on that story?”

And just like that, some of the air was let out of my bubble. I probably spent 10 hours (or more) on that story. So that works out to $5 an hour? That’s not even minimum wage. Not to mention all the stories I’ve spent time on that will probably never be published.

But then I remembered how many hours I spent writing stories just because it was fun, never intending them to be published. Some people watch TV, some people surf social media, some people watch the stars, some people read books. Hobbies don’t have to be profitable. And doing what makes my soul happy doesn’t have to make money.

I write because I love it. I love it when stories get published because I love to share things that make me happy. If one of my novels gets published, that would make me happy too, for the same reason. (And, quite frankly, because there’s something exciting about seeing my name in print.)

But if the novel never happens, if I just continue to blog and publish short stories, that’s okay too. I’ll keep writing, keep improving, keep trying and having fun. Because what my friend failed to understand was that it’s not about the hours spent or the money I make doing it. It’s about the fact that I’ve been in love with stories for as long as I can remember. And the ability to tell a good story is something special. If I can tell a story that makes other people think, or feel, or empathize, then I’ve done something amazing. I can’t put a price on that kind of connection with other people.

Do you feel that connection to others when you write or read stories?

Lessons Learned

IMG_8639Not long ago, I had a new story, Welcome Home, published as a guest writer for On The Premises.

I love almost every story OTP publishes. That’s saying a lot, since even my closest friends and I vary widely in readerly taste. One of the reasons I believe their stories are so good is because they offer edits to their writers. On acceptance, they suggest things that should be changed.

In my story, one of the things they said is that I needed to tone down the “lessons learned” aspect of the story. I have a tendency to not trust my readers to get my point. So sometimes I say things. Then say them again. Then say them one more time, just in case the first couple of times didn’t quite make my point clear.

(Do you get my point?)

I ended up getting a copy of the story that had been edited already, and when I read through it, I sent a note back to the editors that nothing had been done to it. It wasn’t until I compared the stories side by side that I realized it had been edited. Not a lot was taken out, and what was taken out didn’t change the meaning of the story. It didn’t make it harder to understand.

I keep telling myself to trust the reader. But re-reading the story, and believing it was the same version really brought the lesson home for me.

I know that I love when I figure something out within a story. And by over-explaining myself, I’m cheating the reader of that experience.

I wish Word had a “find preachy text” search function. But since it doesn’t, I guess I’ll have to try harder to find it myself. It’s just hard to know when my point has been made.

Anyone else have experience with this, either as a reader or a writer?

Open Letter to The Writer Who Left My Group

IMG_8652Dear Writer Who Left My Writer’s Group,

I was sad when you dropped out of our writer’s group. You had good input, and I really liked your story.

I felt bad about it, like it might be partly my fault. See, at our last group, you got a tough review from another writer. And you also got a tough review from me. I don’t think I remembered to tell you how much I liked your story, and I should have. Maybe that would have helped.

See, I’ve been there. Two months into my writer’s group, I got a tough review from the same person. I fought tears during group, trying to put on a brave face, like it didn’t bother me. I thought I did a good job, but other people could probably tell how upset I was. I know I could tell how upset you were.

After that group, I thought about just giving up. Not writing anymore. It seemed pointless. I mean, I’ve been doing this for awhile, and if I’m not where I want to be, then why bother? I almost dropped out of group.

Then, I got together with a friend, who said all the things I needed to hear at that moment. That the critiquer was just trashing my work because he was jealous of how awesome I am. That he didn’t know what he was talking about. That obviously he was just an idiot with no taste. I mean, my friend was wrong. But it got me out of that funk I was in.

See, the problem was that my critiquer was right, and I knew he was right. That’s why it stung so badly. He wasn’t right about everything, of course. But he was right about enough that I knew I needed to take a good hard look at my writing.

I’m going to confess; I’ve been a lazy writer. I haven’t always worked as hard on a piece as I could. And should. My anger inspired me to be a better writer.

My critiquer is now a good friend. And I really count on his input, because I know he won’t sugar-coat anything. It still stings from time to time, but I don’t take it personally anymore.

So back to you, writer who left. I was going to tell you all this. I wanted to contact you after group and let you know that we’ve all been there, that I like your story, and encourage you to keep going.

But your profile on Meetup didn’t allow me to send you a message, or give me any way to contact you. And then you left our group, so now I really can’t get in touch.

I’m sad you left, but I have to remember that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Maybe it really went down the way I think it did, or maybe you had to leave for a completely unrelated reason.

Either way, know that I’m thinking of you, and I’m hoping I see the best version of your story out there someday.

And know that next time, I’ll make sure I tell other writers that I like their work, try to end on a positive note. Because maybe you would have left anyway. But if I had said that it was good work, and then you left, I wouldn’t feel bad.

I’d just figure you weren’t ready.

Best of luck, wherever you are.

Doree

P.S. This comic has been stuck in my mind, so I thought I’d share it.

Mystery Blogger Award

Yay! I’ve been nominated for the Mystery Blogger Award. It’s not really about “mystery” writing or anything like that; Mystery is a play on the name of the person who started the award, Okoto Enigma.

In order to participate in the award, I must:

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Rule #1

Rule one: Put the award/ logo on my blog. Yep, it’s that way. <—–

Rule two: List the rules. Check.

Rule 3: Thank whoever nominated me and provide a link to their blog. That was the wonderful Janet’s Smiles. Thank you!As you may guess, her mission in life is to make people smile. She does this by talking about life, music, and her wonderful crafts. I’m seriously jealous of her scrapbooks.

Rule 4: Mention the creator of the award and provide a link. I did that above. ^^

Rule 5: Tell my readers 3 things about myself.

  1. I love playing board games.
  2. I’m known for being quite clumsy. People who don’t want me to die get nervous when I do anything with a potential for injury.
  3. I love animals. I have five cats, two dogs, and various squirrels (we consider them our outdoor pets.)

Rule 6: Nominate 10- 20 people. I’ve found most of these blogs through A to Z over the years.

A Texan’s View of Upstate New York

Pen in Her Hand

Life and Faith in Caneyhead

Megan Moran (romance author)

The Cyborg Mom

While I Was Reading

The Lair of the Silver Fox

Read is the New Black

Readers of the Night

Girl Who Reads

Rule 7: Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog.

Rule 8: Ask my nominees 5 questions of my choice; with one weird or funny question.

  1. What was the last game you played, and with who?
  2. What’s your favorite word or quote?
  3. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
  4. What do you like on your pizza?
  5. What’s your favorite question to ask other people?

Rule 9: Share a link to my best posts. Some of my favorites:

The Timelessness of Stories

How My Former Bullies are Doing Now

Words Have Power

The five questions I was asked:

  1.   Who is your favorite author? Oh, that’s a tough one. If you’d asked me even a few years ago, I would have said Dean Koontz. I don’t really have a single favorite anymore, so I’ll go with my five favorites: Bryn Greenwood, Holly Black, John Green, JD Robb, and as mentioned, Dean Koontz.
  2.   How long have you been blogging? 7 years!
  3.   Have you ever been nominated for a major award? Nope, this will be the first.
  4.   If you could play a musical instrument what would it be? I’ve always wanted to learn to play piano, but anyone who’s ever heard me sing would tell you I’m tone deaf.
  5.   Who is Carmen Sandiego and why should I care where in the world he is? Carmen Sandiego is a she! And she taught me all about geography and and about other cultures on my Commodore 64. She was a spy who traveled around the world, and I had to locate her using clues.
  6.   Extra credit question, did I make you smile today? Always. 🙂

My Quote Journal

img_7757When I was a kid, I painstaking copied quotes and poems that spoke to me into a notebook. I wrote down any little snippets I loved, memorized them, and told others all about them.

Then I got older, and I abandoned the practice. Not for any particular reason, but just because that’s sometimes what happens when kids grow up.

I still occasionally jotted down a quote on a scrap of paper, or emailed it to myself. But the emails sat in my inbox, forgotten. And the scraps of paper got lost.

In 2013, I was working at a counseling center, and I met someone who loved quotes as much as I did. We’d exchange interesting quotes, and I started writing inspirational ones on a whiteboard in my office.

I’d been collecting upcycled journals for awhile. I just love them. But they’d been sitting on my shelf, unused. And then, one day, I realized that I could fill them with words, these wonderful quotes that I had collected. So that’s what I did.

Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I found this quote, it spoke to me, and I realized that’s what I’d been doing all this time. I’ve been collecting words and phrases that say something I can’t quite say, articulate something caught in my throat or burning in my heart.

When I’m having a rough day, I flip through my quote journal and read a random page or two. Without fail, one of the quotes on the page speaks directly to whatever’s going on with me that day, and makes me feel a little better.

Do you have any interesting practices from your childhood that you abandoned (or not) as an adult?