Critiques

In one of my favorite movies, “Because of Winn Dixie,” a little girl is trying some candy for the first time. It’s candy that tastes of sadness and she drops it from her mouth to the sidewalk and says, “Yuck. This tastes bad.” And though I haven’t eaten any sad candy, I’m having one of those days.

A month ago, I submitted my first submission to my online critique group. It was a flash piece that was over-edited and poorly proofed. I was in a hurry, trying to get back and forth to Montana, distracted — I have a lot of reasons for why it was turned in that way, but none of them really excuse me from the responsibility of making sure it was right.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression and this week the piece made its way to the front of the queue. Now there must be hundreds of writers who think I’m a hack because I forgot apostrophes and accidentally cut articles — and this is after spending weeks being complemented for my editing skills. One critique told me to make sure and fix all the errors before I sent it to publishers. (Thanks?) What’s worse is that no one has gotten the story. There’s too much going on, there’s not enough going on. And no one has been particularly polite or supportive. I don’t have as much trouble with negative feedback in person, but for some reason, the online lack of tone really gives me a lot of trouble.

I need to get a thicker skin.

Two kinds of rejection

In February, I joined a record number of people in applying for Clarion West, a prestigious six week intensive workshop for promising writers in the Speculative Fiction genre. I knew my odds were slim and while most applicants spent most of March biting their nails, I was distracted by Pop’s diagnosis and the accompanying personal world shift. I *almost* hoped I wouldn’t get in because maybe I wouldn’t be able to go with everything that was going on. But then I really did want to get in because it would be an incomparable experience, a new community, an intensive opportunity to share critiques — to learn to be a better reader and writer.

I received my rejection letter this week. I archived it away and felt a sense of completion, regret, relief. But then curiosity got the better of me. And I started to look at the twitters. A few people wrote blog posts about their rejections. Some even posted rejection letters. In the middle, some said:

We realize this is a disappointment, but hope you will apply to Clarion West in the future as our readers ranked your work highly.

Then, like mine, it said:

We wish you the best with your writing, and hope you have a productive summer. Thank you again for your interest in Clarion West.

And all of a sudden, I felt terrible. I received no middle paragraph. No encouragement to try again. No high ranking from readers. So how bad was I? Is there another letter that states, “Please never apply again, you ignorant hack” putting me squarely in the mediocre tier, or am I that hack? Oh god, I’m the hack! What am I doing? Just why do I think that I have any talent at all?

Then I think, snap the fuck out of it. This is the biz, these are the breaks. Show them or don’t. If you’re going to whine, go crawling back into finance and put up with moronic,¬†chauvinistic yes-men for another 20 years while watching your soul die.

On second thought, let’s just keep those rejection letters coming.

A hat might help.

Today was the first really hard day. The first day that I cried. The first day I realized that I chose the hard way, not the easy way.

It feels like whining. I know millions of people would kill to do this, to chase their dreams, to really live. But it’s far harder than it looks. And looking back into the relative safety of the old days where I hadn’t risked anything, where I was fat and happy and complacent (metaphorically, of course), that enclave looks like the smarter option.

In a ‘normal’ or ‘corporate’ setting, there’s no need to constantly prop yourself up. There’s very little that will wreck the world as you know it. There are people around if you’re having a bad day. Believing in yourself every second isn’t a requisite. Resources are always at your fingertips. There’s someone to ask if you have a question.

This isn’t impossible, it’s just hard. And it will be worth it. It already has been. I just have to get past days like this. I just put on my big black russian hat. That should help.