One day, in the Fall of 2010, I perused through the “How to Publish Your Book” section of the local Borders. I saw a makeshift brochure Scotch taped to the shelves. A Writing Workshop meets here every other Wednesday at 7 P.M. Well, whatya know. That is precisely what I am looking for.
After attending a few meetings, I was invited to read a sample of my work. I chose the first two pages of my “completed” book.
Once I finished reading, the instructor gave me a figurative punch in the face. “Who is your audience? Do you want this to be read by a mass audience? This is written like a newspaper article. There’s no opinion, no conflict, no struggle, and no personality. You don’t have a voice. It’s all a bunch of boring details that I don’t care about.”
He handed a copy back to me and it was covered in red dashes and circles and question marks. His illegible notes filled the margins. His red pen ripped through my art like a tornado. My emotions bled. His comments hurt like hell. He destroyed my entire book, two and half years of work, in about 30 seconds. I suffered a devastating blow to my ego. I was crushed and went home dejected, rejected, defeated, and ready to abandon my book.
I shared the awful experience with my wife, Cathy. She read the piece. “He’s right. This isn’t you. This is way too stuffy. You don’t talk like this. It is boring. Yeah, all the details are important to you but no one else will care.”
I went to the next workshop.
The instructor greeted me. “Peter, good to see you. I thought for sure I had scared you off.”
“I want to be a better writer. I need to learn about the craft of writing and finding my voice. You gave me constructive criticism. I need that. I don’t need someone telling me this is great because they don’t want to hurt my feelings. So, thank you for being honest.”
I became a better writer. Not great, just better. And, I re-wrote my book, two more times. It is finished and will be published in the next few weeks. I’m still practicing and learning how to write everyday. That devastating blow was a great experience.
What prized possession have you held tightly to? When have you done your best and been told, “You can do better?” Did it hurt your feelings? Did you listen to the feedback and make changes to improve? I certainly hope so. The world needs more people who can accept constructive criticism.
Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant.