The Lies Us Writers Tell

I tell myself that honest-gut-wrenching criticism is what I want to hear. This is what will make the work better because the work is what it’s all about. It’s not about me, Patricia. It’s not about me, Pat. It’s not about me, Tricia, Trish, Trisher, or any of the other names I’ll answer to. It’s not personal. It’s about the work, the writing. Yes, I want to hear the good, but I want even more to hear the bad and the ugly–the whole truth, nothing but that truth. So, please, reader, go ahead and tear my work apart. Don’t worry, I will put it back together and it will be better for it. This is what I say because I am a writer, and I’m full of shit.

When it comes to our writing, the words we drip from our souls, pour from our guts, suck from the right sides and the left sides of our brains, we don’t want to hear the truth, at least not the whole truth. We want to hear “I Love it!” “It’s perfect!” “Simply brilliant!”

Yes, we want to hear that our work is Brilliant, with a capital B! We don’t want to hear the other “B” word. The “but” word or the but-phrase–“There’s just one thing…” And we never want to hear the but-question–“What did you mean when you wrote…?”

We tell ourselves, our students, any inspiring writer who will give us the time of day, that criticism of our work put in question form will be easier to take in…Well,it’s not.

It may hurt to hear your reader say, “Your dialog sounds wooden.” But when your reader asks, “Did you mean for this character to sound wooden?” You’re left feeling like an idiot who intended to write bad dialog.

Okay, so it sucks to hear anything about our work that implies that it is anything less than genius. Still, the truth is that after you absorb the good, the bad, and the ugly, after you cry yourself to sleep, after you curse the names of your critics (some of whom are your closest and dearest friends), and after you tire of your voodoo dolls, you can go back to your work and make it better. Or you can go into your kitchen and make a pastrami on rye sandwich.

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2 thoughts on “The Lies Us Writers Tell

  1. Pat, you make me cry. I'm facing a meeting with an editor (a very fine editor, a discerning editor)tomorrow and I'm dreading it. This is my chance for clarity about a pet project. A chance to make some changes for the best and yet I'm already feeling the sting of her reservations, her suggestions for tossing out my darlings, God forbid, for maybe abandoning the whole project. It's a bit like standing one of my sons in front of a stranger who has no history with my boy, who doesn't understand how much love and attention he's received and how wonderful I find him and asking for an objective evaluation of my son as a human being. Yes, it sucks.

  2. Gloria,
    Your work is wonderful and fight for it as you would for your sons. It does suck and it's more painful than it should be, but still, you can and will do this. You will make this happen. I know you can. If you want to talk through anything before, let me know.
    It helped me to talk through stuff before I met with an editor.

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