The People Who Touch Our Writing Lives

I had a rare opportunity last week. I use the term “opportunity” loosely because it didn’t feel like it at the time. At the time, I felt uncomfortable and awkward, but more uncomfortable and awkward than that would have been pretending like it never happened. I don’t do well with “confrontation.”

The Change

If you’ve been hanging around here long enough, you’ll remember in The Story of a Writer (me), part of my journey included coming face-to-face with my insecurities. If not, here’s the pertinent part:

I’ll never forget the day I shared my first chapter with my writing group. I’d printed it out–enough copies for each member–and strolled into that coffee shop ready to blow their minds. I was writing a book. Not many of them had even attempted it. I was so clever and witty as I read it out loud. I had to stop myself from laughing at my own jokes. I finished reading it and waited for their praise. A couple of them gave me non-committal smiles. One suggested a couple of improvements I could make. And then, the feedback every writer dreads assaulted me for the first time. One of the members didn’t like it. In fact, she said that my voice was immature and if I continued to write that way, it was something she would never read. I was devastated. I practically choked out an excuse to leave early so I didn’t have to look at her anymore and I could go home and cry.

I didn’t go to a meeting for months. I didn’t even write for months. Every time I thought about sitting down in front of the computer, nausea rose in my throat and that woman’s words rung in my ears. I didn’t think I would ever write again. All of the praise and good words felt like lies and her criticism the only feedback I’d ever gotten that was true. Looking back now, I should have realized that was the first sign I really was a writer. Writers always hold closer to their negative criticism than their positive. But at the time, it felt like the end of the world.

The hardest part was, of course, that she was right. It’s much easier to shake off difficult reviews when we know they’re way off the mark. The ones that hit home hurt the most because they’re our own insecurities staring back at us. Obviously I did start writing again and when I did, it was for good. When I did, I came out a better and stronger writer that could handle criticism.

It’s been about four years ago now. Over time I came to think of the woman as a blessing, not a curse. After that fateful day, I never saw her again but deep down I knew she had made an impact on my life. She was the person who made me face my writing destiny and make a decision. And to this day, I’m proud of the decision I made and I’m forever grateful to her for giving me that opportunity. Yes, opportunity.

Expressing My Gratitude

Guess who walked back into my writer’s meetings a few months ago? That’s right. At first I wasn’t sure if it was her. It had been so long but something in my gut told me it was her. She remembered me. How can you forget the girl who sniveled into her manuscript? We sat through an entire meeting, her right across from me as I went around and around in my head with, is that her? Should I ask? Should I say something? Would it just be weird? I decided, pansy that I am, not to say anything. And then she disappeared again.

So it was awkward, I decided. I hadn’t exactly been subtle that long ago summer day. Maybe she felt bad. Maybe she thought I hated her. I’m a writer. I think way too much into things. But last week, after several missed meetings, she came back again and I took it as a sign. I had to say something. If she was going to show up to meetings regularly, we might as well get it all out there.

“Don’t be uncomfortable,” was how I started the conversation. Because that just puts you at ease, right? I didn’t want her to think I was upset with because in reality, I admired her honesty. I know giving critiques is not easy, especially when they have a potential to upset the writer (i.e. always). I asked if she had given me my flaming review and she immediately said she had. She asked me if she’d used the words “teeny bopper”. I didn’t remember that but thanks for the extra blow! Haha. Kidding.

Anyway, she began to apologize if she’d hurt my feelings and I admitted that while I wasn’t the happiest immediately following the “incident,” her words had been the stepping stone to a more dedicated (and hopefully much improved) writer. I told her that she was my catalyst and how much that meant to me. She has a little claim on any future success I have because if it weren’t for her, I might have taken a different path, I might have lost my passion, I might have written teeny bopper fiction forever.

Yes, it was a little awkward but you know what? It was pretty great. How often do you get to thank someone for shaping such an important part of your life? Most of the time, people touch our lives and we never see them again. We never get to show our appreciation. I feel lucky I got the chance.

Is there someone who changed your writing life? Have you ever gotten the chance to thank them?

Photo by David Goehring

I am an author and a writing business teacher. I am also a mother of two, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. My debut women's fiction novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017. Here, I blog about my journey in publication in the hopes of inspiring others to follow their own dreams.

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Comments (36)

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing such an inspiring story. Your strength and resilience is amazing and I hope that I, too, can face criticisms with humility and gratitude when the inevitable day comes. 🙂

    1. Linda, I have no doubt that you will.  While I don’t think the sting ever goes away completely, a dedication to making your work (and your writing as a whole) better becomes the most important thing.  And thank you so much for your kinds words.  🙂

  2. Not only have you grown as your writing self, you’ve also grown as a woman who is able to express gratitude. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when it’s grown from a disturbing experience. Good for you. 

  3. The best critiques are sometimes the hardest to take. As a proofreader and copy editor, I’m often met with remarks from writers who obviously just wanted me to say, “it’s fine the way it is” when it’s not. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    1. I think part of us always wants to hear that!  Lol!  But afterward, when we’ve had time to think, we know it’s the genuine critiques that help us improve.

  4. I’m so glad you shared your story Jamie. I have a similar tale.In a writing contest I received, 32 out of 100. Pretty much the lowest score one could get. The judge ripped my work apart from the first word. In the end, like you, she gave me the best gift I could have received. A road map. She told me what I needed to do to improve my work. The next year, I entered the same contest, and by chance, I got the same judge. While judging is supposed to be anonymous, she waited until the contest was over and reached out. I was happy to be able to thank her. I told her how I had taken an ownership of her suggestions and set my goals based upon them. She couldn’t believe how much my writing had changed. I truly believe that people don’t say things to be mean. It’s like saying, “I’m going to go to work today and do the worst job I can.” That just doesn’t happen.

    1. I agree with you even though it can sometimes be hard to remember that in the heat of the moment.  It must have felt that much better to hear how much you’d grown!

  5. Great post, Jamie!
    I think critiques need to be honest, but there’s a nice way to go about it. While no manuscript is perfect, I still feel there is always something positive to be found. And the good and bad should be noted.

    I’m glad you didn’t let a bad critique stop you from writing and you became a stronger writer because of it! GO YOU!!!

    1. To be a writer is to continue growing, always.  The hard comments are the ones that help us get better and the positive ones give us hope to keep going.

  6. Brave of you, Jamie, and timely inspiration for me. The most critical of my first group of beta readers (ever) was my brother-in-law’s neighbor’s sister. We live a distance apart and never met, corresponding online only. She ripped it up pretty good, basically calling it formulaic and predictable. This was about four years ago. This Saturday is my nephew’s graduation party, and she will be there. After all these years, I have to face her. Ugh. Thanks for sharing your moxie–I know it won’t be as bad as I’m imagining, and can now foresee our laughing it off Saturday. Oh, and, I did take some of her criticism to heart, and my first ms is much better for it.

    1. That is good timing!  I’m sure it will all turn out well.  Even if she isn’t as gracious as you hope, this is a great opportunity to be the bigger person.

  7. What a wonderful post. I certainly don’t think you write like a “teeny bopper” now, and you’re right, that the critiques that wound the most are the ones we already sort of know but don’t want to face. Those are usually the most helpful too, though. 😉

  8. Terrific post, Jamie. It takes guts to accept and acknowledge that kind of growth. I’ve been on the other side of that scenario. 

    I once spent hours going over a contest entry, asked some pointed questions and made some suggestions. I got a lovely thank you note and felt so good. The same story, hugely revised, came to me through another contest. I identified myself and congratulated the entrant on her improved craft and received another lovely thank you note. 

    The next time I contacted the entrant was to congratulate her on winning the Golden Heart.

    So, from the other side of fence, know that the other woman cherishes your success as her own.

  9. I have yet to expose my writing to genuine criticism.  (So far my family has been all smiles and praise).  I look forward to it and fear it at the same time, but I hope I can learn from it the way you have.

    1. I think the fact that you’re prepared for what you’re going to deal with is a huge head start.  Going into it with the right frame of mind is half the battle.

  10. I remember that story, back when.  You were crushed. I remember you saying that she obviously didn’t ‘get’ your style.  In turn you decided to take her criticism and grow from it.  I am incredibly proud of you.  For using it to grow and even facing her when you met her again.  That’s an awesome story and thank you for sharing! 

  11. What a great story.  I don’t have one experience like that, but yes, comments from contests really helped me.  You do have to have a thick skin, but once you develop that you’ll be able to recognize the criticisms that resonate and those you can throw out the window!

  12. What a great story. I don’t have one experience like that, but yes, comments from contests really helped me. You do have to have a thick skin, but once you develop that you’ll be able to recognize the criticisms that resonate and those you can throw out the window!

  13. We definitely need to be ready to critique. And, like you learned. It might sting at first, but it helps our writing in the end.

    1. Yes, there’s definitely a proper state of mind for giving a receiving a critique.  Our words should be careful so as to build up and not break down.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  14. Thanks for sharing! It’s amazing how we remember the negative criticisms more than the positive ones. I’m glad you made the decision to write again and confront her. I don’t like confrontations either. 🙂

  15. Great post, Jamie!  It’s so true; the harsh criticisms are sometimes the ones that resonate with us, and that makes it all the harder to hear them.

    Learning from them, though–that’s the best revenge.  😉

    And seiously, it’s what helps us grow.


  16. Great post!  And you’re writing has some a long way from teeny-bopper.  Got news for ya:  YOU helped change my writing life.  And I thank you for it every time I sit down and the computer and crank out a page of gold!  (We have yet to prove whether it IS gold or just a lump of coal, but till then I’m referring to it as gold.)  Sometimes we need to struggle through unpleasantness to grow.

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