Archive for July, 2012
It is a common misconception that constructive criticism is easier to take than unfoundedly mean spirited criticism. More often than not, this isn’t the case. While it can be fairly easy to ignore and move on when criticism doesn’t resonate, when it rings true, pain really sets in. It’s hard to see your reflection and dislike what you find. And when someone else holds the mirror, it’s even worse. But I found that I can be resilient in the face of such genuinely painful critiques.
Last week, in my writing group, I discovered just how much the truth can hurt. I’ve been working so hard on my second draft of my novel The Particulars, and I really thought I was making good progress. So when it came my turn to submit to my weekly writing critique group, I was excited to hear some feedback. My group usually loves my writing, so I was caught completely off guard. Though their critique of my opening chapters was very constructive, it certainly wasn’t favorable.
It was rough, listening to nearly two hours of how my writing wasn’t working, so when I finally got off the Skype call, I broke down. I cried more than I had in a long time. I was just so frustrated and disappointed in my writing and in myself. I felt stupid for thinking it was good when it wasn’t. And the worse part was I really didn’t think I knew how to fix it.
Once the tears stopped flowing, though, I had a choice. I could choose to be resilient in the face of a difficult situation. Here’s some tips that helped me:
- Don’t read into it.
The biggest mistake you can make when dealing with a harsh critique is to read into what it means about who you are as a person. I could have told myself that because the opening of my book wasn’t working, that I was a terrible writer or that I’d never be published, but there’s nothing productive that will come from thinking those things. Besides those things aren’t even true.
- Get right back on the horse.
The very next morning after the critique, I forced myself to start again because I knew the longer I waited the harder it would be to start again. So don’t wait. No time like the present.
- Look for the opportunity.
I realized I could choose to be burned by this critique, or I could rise for the ashes a stronger writer. This was my chance to grow and improve, if I choose to use it that way.
- Start fresh.
Since my writing wasn’t very effective in my first draft, I gave myself permission to come at it from a different perspective and tried something totally new. I scrapped the first three chapters of my novel completely and started over from scratch.
- Don’t give up.
The only way you can really lose in these situations is to give up. There would be an upside, if I stuck with it.
So I rewrote my first three chapters, and what I came up with was so much better than what I had. At least I was pretty sure it was. But to make certain I had to submit myself to one more critique. I asked one of the group members to read it again for me, and to my relief, she absolutely loved my new direction. And the fact that I was able to do so despite my pain and sweat and tears, made the victory all the sweeter.
Here’s the new opening paragraphs of The Particulars as it stands now:
Veril Maloit picked up his manuscript and dumped it into the trash. It was no use. It was no good. He was no good. He kicked the overflowing waste bin. There was no evil worse than writers block. He glared at his desk. It looked so empty without his novel cluttering it up. Two hundred thousand words in, and he didn’t even know what it was about yet. What a waste of trees.
He took a deep breath and gagged. What was that strange odor? By the smell of it someone had just run over a skunk with a truck of herbal medicinal supplies. He coughed and pinched his nose closed with two fingers.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember how loved each of us are by our Father in Heaven. But we are each loved so profoundly that it is truly impossible for us to comprehend. The more we open our hearts to feeling this love, the closer to Him we become.
This morning I woke up with a nasty eye and very contagious eye infection. I opted to stay home from church rather than risk infecting everyone in my Ward.
So I spent the day reading through scripture while listening to awesome and free Especially For Youth music downloaded from lds.org. While reading through the Book of Mormon this afternoon, I came across this scripture:
But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.
We are each literally “encircled about eternally in the arms of His love.” I felt the Spirit of Christ burning inside me when I read this scripture. I knew how loved I am. I wanted to create some art with those words, so I created the following image in Illustrator to remind me of how I felt when I read it. Enjoy!
(Feel free to use the image as long as you attribute it to me with a link back to this post. Thanks!)
Conventional wisdom tells us that scars fade over time. But they don’t always fade on their own. Whether physical or emotional, diminishing scars is a process that takes work.
A few months ago I had surgery to have a two benign Lipoma tumors removed from my left arm. In the weeks and months since the surgery, the pain subsided but the scars did not. The scars grew hard, red, and puffy. Ugly reminders of the surgery. Every time I’d look at them, I was right back in the memory of all the pain and anxiety I’d experienced. Embarrassed at my skin’s imperfection, I wanted to hide them. To cover them up. But I realized that wouldn’t make them go away. Fading them would take time and effort. I started rubbing scar-reducing cream into them several times a day. The nerves under the scars are very sensitive, so rubbing them can be rather painful. But the combination of the massage and cream has started to soften and lighten the scars. To my surprise they are fading.
In thinking about my scars, it occurs to me that emotional scars are much the same way. When we face a trauma in my life, I am often left with emotional scars. If left to their own devices they can get irritated and raw. They can make me feel imperfect and embarrassed. I might try to cover them up and hide them only to find that they are just as present as ever. It’s only when I start to massage my emotional scars that they start to go away.
It’s painful to address my emotional scars in the moment. Touching that nerve sends reverberating pain up and down my psyche making me wince and want to withdraw. But I have to retrain my nerves. Exposure lessens the pain. Lightens the scars.
A raw wound in my life I’m realizing is the post traumatic stress I’ve been dealing with from spending time in the Intensive Care Unit twice in the last couple years. I’ve wanted to hide it. To put on a brave face and pretend that the scars from that memory didn’t exist. But that has only given the resulting nightmares more power. I’ve noticed that as I’ve started to talk about my experiences it’s gotten better. Though at first it was a raw nerve to talk about the memory of being unable to breathe on my own, massaging that wound has stimulated healing. I even recently collaged the nightmares that have haunted me from my time in the ICU.
My scars will always be there. Both emotional and physical. But overtime and with the proper care, they will fade. Until then, they are my battle scars. Not reminders of weakness but evidence of my strength. Of how much I’ve endured. Of being a survivor. And that will never fade.