“that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).”
(Camera Lucida, Roland Barthe, 1981.)
To say I was soft to rejections and criticism years ago was an understatement. As a teenage author, I was reluctant to share my writing with anyone, considering the reception it got within my own home. I knew my writing was improving because I was researching writing in my spare time and reading everything I could get my hands on. I did not have all the resources I wish I had, but there’s no going back in time and changing things.
It wasn’t simply a lack of resources but also a lack of support. My hobbies were not encouraged, and I was only given books to quiet me. As I mentioned in my previous post, my writing was often seized as “evidence” of my instability. My mother would take journals as I wrote in them and show them to her colleagues. Letters I had written friends out of sheer boredom during class were misinterpreted. Short stories that I had written were analyzed for “perversion”.
Everything I wrote was looked at through a glare of judgment. I was never offered an opportunity to explain my writing. If I wrote romance, it was looked at as vulgar smut. If I wrote dark pieces, it was too dark. If I wrote science fiction, it went against God. If I wrote fantasy, it was unrealistic. If I wrote unhappy endings, “why can’t you just write about something happy for once?”
Finally, when I discovered a mentor, I was freed to write about what I wanted. I had to write at school after hours because if I wrote at home, I would get punished. I wasn’t allowed to use a computer at home unless it was homework-related. So, in my study periods, I would write stories and present them to my mentor after class. He would spend his planning periods, reading my writing and writing feedback in the margins.
Because I was so new to exposing my writing to someone, it felt like he had struck a nerve when he critiqued it. I had not yet learned to distinguish between constructive critiques and criticism. This mentor could see how fragile I was, and he took the time to explain to me that you have to develop a thicker skin if you want to be in the writing industry.
I was fifteen. This twenty-six-year-old was lending me books, encouraging me to go to readings, and reading my own work back at me so I could hear how it sounded. He bought me books on the craft. My reaction to critiques started to improve. I could discern constrictive, well-intentioned critique from criticism. I still experienced hate and discouragement – people who claimed to be friends ripping up original, and oftentimes only, copies of writing. People calling me names and making up rumors.
Then, I experienced some personal setbacks: an ex who used my head as a punching bag and left bruises on me, and another who used intimidation, threats, and violence to get his way. Both created great uncertainty in me about who I was as a person in their own unique ways. One destroyed every effort I made with writing by ripping it to shreds; the other simply used his words to reduce my confidence in my own.
But as I grew more distanced from the hatred, I began to recognize my strengths. I found support in people who critiqued but did not attack. People who found ways of advancing me without hurting me. By discussing openly and honestly what didn’t work about my writing and what did, I started to trust my voice more and more. I guess what I’m getting about, in my rambling way, is that to discover your authenticity as a writer, as a human, you have to learn what to discard and what to hold onto. Not every criticism has merit. Not every comment is true. Not every negative thought you have in your head is true.
Because of so many years of abuse, my Imposter Syndrome became real and a threat to my success. Finally, one day, a friend sat me down and tackled a couple of important questions: why do I feel like I’m an imposter? Why am I not a “real” author? She made me realize I might not be a bestselling author. I might not be a well-recognized author. But I do write, my writing has been published, therefore, I’m not an imposter when I tell people I’m an author.
It was eye-opening and made realize so long as I do the writing, I’m an author. Another friend told me that I could sit around and dream up stories all day. Children can do that. That does not make me an author. That makes me a dreamer. It’s when I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard or however I choose to express myself that I transcend the label and become what I say I am: artist, author, poet.
All this to say, I have learned a lot as an author over the years. Though I am primarily self-educated as far as my creative endeavors are concerned, I’m proud of the progress I have made. But I have to be honest, in the interest of full disclosure, recently, I received a hostile criticism of my writing from a woman I thought I could learn from. She resorted to name-calling, gaslighting, attempting to manipulate me, and more.
I reacted poorly and shared some of her feedback anonymously, asking for responses on social media from friends, readers, and fellow poets. I was hurt and I reacted impulsively. I do not seek to damage her reputation, so I made sure to omit her name from anything I shared. I honestly was curious if her criticism had merit. What I found has taught me about poetry, fictive diegesis, literary voice, and how to improve my own writing. Friends and fellow poets offered me fair critiques – things I might not have noticed because I was too close to my own work.
That being said, again, there’s a difference between attacking ad hominem and merely looking to hurt versus hoping to help someone improve their work. My hostility was a result of my sensitivity coming out to play after a long period of latency. I hope if anyone witnessed any of my actions on social media requesting opinions to me, they realize I’m only human and my insecurities get the best of me too.
2 thoughts on “Part II of Authenticity, Creativity, & Criticism”
We all act impulsively sometimes, sometimes there just isn’t time to “think before you act” instead sometimes we just “Bake the scorns” and serve them🤣🤣….it in no way makes us inconsiderate or inhumane, it just means you feel. In the way you expressed yourself here even a blind person can feel your scars beyond the surface. It is sad that people cannot consider that others did not have the privileges that they had of being EDUCATED in or for what they like to do, so instead of genuinely helping and holding the person’s hand they laugh and reduce them to nothing. You being hurt is completely valid because as writers one thing both parties understood is words have power and even are power, they are energy and humans are energy and that is why words move us some type of way deoending on the words used. Like my younger sister always says “DON’T JUDGE, GUIDE!”. We as people just lack kindness and gentleness. I feel she could have given you a guide to what she was going or looking for instead of saying words that would make you doubt who and what you are. What I do take from this though is that you did not allow her to take away your own identity…self taught or not…YOU ARE A WRITER!
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Thank you so much for this! I love what you said about words being power, they truly are powerful. The words we say to ourselves, and the words others say to us, can be weaponized in our own minds. I hate it, but I’m the type of person that if a hundred people commented and one criticized me, I’d fixate on the one, not the 99.
Guiding one another is so important in this journey, and maybe I choose my own words in haste sometimes, but I always (or almost always) reflect on the effect they have on people. Things others have said to me years ago still run through my head to this day.
I will always write, and no one can take that from me, though people have tried. I don’t mind people teaching me lessons where I can glean something from them, but to simply insult someone is never a teaching moment.
Anger can make us blind sometimes, so can pain. I think I was both hurt and angry when I acted impulsively, but now I recognize my behavior. It’s all a learning experience. That being said, I have to learn how to use the phrase “baking scorns” into a poem still. 🙂