Turning Fear Into a Tool

This blog is new.

So far I’ve been getting readers from tags and putting up links on Facebook.  This isn’t very good for readership, but it’s safe.  I mean, my grandma isn’t going to comment that my work is terrible and I’ll never succeed as a writer. She loves me, and she thinks the world of me, so she’s incredibly supportive.  (Thank you, Grandma, you rock!)

Here’s the problem.  The world isn’t made up of grandmas.

The world’s made up of critics and trolls and people whose job it is to tear you down.  The world’s full of people with good points and hard truths and nothing better to do with their time than tear apart your writing.  And that sucks.  I wrote in a previous post about all the tough paths writers these days are up against, but I missed one.

Writing is scary as shit.

One of my current projects is an iteration (the final iteration) of a book I’ve been working on for ten years.  Longer, even: I wrote the first draft when I was twelve.  And the first draft was absolutely horrible. I mean, I was twelve.  It was basically a Lord of the Rings knockoff with me as the know-it-all hero.  It sucked.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s gotten a lot better over the decades, and I’m actually pretty proud of this draft: bits and pieces will show up in this blog eventually.  But I’ve been working on it for quite literally half my lifetime.  I grew up with these characters.  I grew up with this story.

Writing gets personal.

So what the hell am I supposed to do when someone inevitably hates it?  And how do I make sure my fear doesn’t keep me from moving forward?

 

You can’t please everyone.

That’s always the advice you get in these articles. You can’t make everyone happy.  There will always be haters.  Ignore them because they suck and remember how perfect and special you are.  You’re going to be the next Shakespeare and damn everyone who says otherwise.

This is good for the ego but bad for the craft.  I mean, I don’t exactly go into spiraling bouts of depression over “lol u suk” comments.  It’s the ones that cut into your weaknesses as a writer that sting: the ones that find major plot holes you hoped no one would see, that point out how very banal the romantic subplot isthat tell you your ending is lackluster and disappointing.  It hurts when someone clearly put the effort into reading and understanding your work, and they just didn’t like it.

You can’t say, “they probably didn’t read it”.  You can’t say, “they just don’t understand my art.”  You can’t say, “I don’t need them anyway.”  It’s just going to hurt.  And it’s just going to happen.  Statistically, someone out there is gonna hate your work and there’s nothing you can do about it.

So what the hell do you do?

 

Control your response.

I actually find the Five Stages of Grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) are an excellent guideline for dealing with critics.

I don’t mean to say you should go through the full grieving process every time someone gives you a bad review.  Nor do I mean that, say, denial alone is a good way of dealing with negative feedback.  It’s not.  But your mind goes through a certain process for a reason when bad things happen, and letting yourself deal with it in a similar way helps you process it positively.

Denial: Don’t deny the content of the feedback.  Rather, take an hour to deny the review itself.  Forget it, as hard as that may be.  Go outside, go get lunch, go climb a tree, but go do something else. Don’t call your friend and talk about it, not yet, and do not reply to the reviewer.  Just take a deep breath and remind yourself that there are other things in the world to enjoy.

Anger: Make sure time has passed.  When you get back from your yoga session, your run, your intense LoL game, whatever: that’s when you call up a friend. Or your mom.  Or your grandma.  And that’s when you rant to a sympathetic ear.  Get angry, get furious. Insult the critic’s mama and cats and imaginary girlfriend.  Get it all out.

Bargaining: Start to cool down.   Remind yourself of all the great stuff you have done.  All the positive feedback. All the success you’ve had.  Remind yourself that this too will pass.  Brag a little.  Let the person on the other end of the phone tell you you’re awesome, and believe them.  They love you for a reason: they probably aren’t just saying it to make you feel better.

Depression: This is the hard part.  Sit back down to the feedback with a calm mind and read it again.  Make a note of the stuff that hits home: what good points do they have? What can you learn from it?  In what ways are they right?  Try not to form a case for yourself in your head.  You’ve done that already. Time to move on.

Acceptance:  Apply what you’ve learned in the future.  If it doesn’t work, discard it. Ultimately, you’re the writer, not whoever it is who told you what to do.  And you can’t please everyone.  But trying new things and learning from past experiences will only have a good effect on your writing, whether it’s a change you choose to keep or not.

 

Control your gut reaction.

But criticism can cut deep.

It’s so easy to look at a mountain of advice and criticism and tell yourself you have so much work to do, and isn’t it easier to just curl up with A Song of Ice and Fire and fret over Martin’s lack of plot armor instead?  Or better: ignore it all! Just write for fun! So what if you never make a profession out of it, even if it’s been your dream since you were four?  Does it really matter?

That gut feeling, that fear of climbing that mountain, is what stops people.  I don’t know if I’m going to pass over it, and I only know a few people who really have.  This is all pretty well-known, basic life knowledge.  Everyone figures it out eventually and it’s never easy to deal with.

I wish I had better advice for getting over it.

I started this blog to start fighting against that mountain.  It’s hiking, to continue the analogy: something that trains the skills you want to hone for the big leagues.  I want to put out content twice a week, one article and one portfolio piece, to prove to myself that I can.  And that content has to be public, because that way I’m writing for someone: in this case, writers and fellow geeky quarter-lifers.  People like me.

And people like me are pretty scary.

The only way I have of dealing with this is to just not think about it when I don’t have to.   Anxiety helps you remember to get things done, but when you’re worrying over something you have no control over you’re not helping anyone.  In other words, don’t think about the climb up the mountain.  Just keep walking forward.

And yeah, okay, taking small steps and focusing on the immediate world around you isn’t always helpful.  Sometimes you have to look around and plan where you’re going.  Otherwise you end up completely lost two mountaintops over from your hostel with nothing but a granola bar and half a bottle of water.  Plus thinking about the mountaintop is what helps you keep going.  But there’s a reason you don’t go climb Everest willy-nilly.

Control your gut instinct to freak out over all the could-bes and what-ifs, and build the skills you want to hone.   Work for people in the industry you want to work in.  Hang out around what you want to become.

One step at a time.

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8 thoughts on “Turning Fear Into a Tool

  1. I assure you I am a big supporter of your writing, Alex, and I am flattered you have put me in your blog. Your analyses of your thinking and writing processes are a window into your mind. You’re on the right path. You need to keep walking ahead with those who appreciate you and you’ll find yourself at the top of the mountain one of these days.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All and all a well composed analysis on criticism for budding writers and old word-hoarders alike.

    (Just saying, your first draft, was way better than a Lord of the Rings knockoff.)

    Like

  3. I face these issues all the time with my music. My current excuse is “I don’t have time to make it perfect”. But, in fact, it’s my own ADD that keeps me from perfecting things. If I’d written/recorded 1/10 of what I’ve done but put 10x more effort, the results would be much more professional. As it is I’m constantly cut between my career (which suffers from my music) and my music (which suffers from my career). …and it’s got nothin to do with age!

    Like

  4. And when you finally reach the top of that mountain, and if you are lucky, you will see many more mountians to climb. The challenge is the fun!

    Like

  5. Pingback: The Meaning of Strength | The Evening Ramble
  6. Pingback: Just Keep Swimming | The Evening Ramble

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