*Originally written for and posted in the ANWA Quarterly Newsletter*
Being a writer means baring your soul. For some, it’s their entire soul, and for others, it means revealing a tiny piece of a larger puzzle. This can make you feel vulnerable and raw.
Ernest Hemingway said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it? We let ourselves bleed because we have a truth to share and explore. We bleed to better understand ourselves, our experiences, and the world around us. We bleed because we write. Or maybe we write because we bleed.
The simple act of sharing your writing is opening yourself up to judgement, criticism, praise, or to simply be ignored. It can be painful. It can be soul-crushing. But you know what else it is? Worth it.
Opening yourself up to failure and ridicule is a lovely and painful way to become a better writer. Don’t let your fears or insecurities hold you back from doing what you’re meant to do.
I attended a query letter webinar recently, and I decided to submit mine for a live critique. I knew it needed help, but I didn’t know how to move forward. I needed it to be ripped apart so I could put it back together. There’s always that hope that they’ll tell you it’s perfect. But let’s get real; that didn’t happen.
The presenter pointed out the things that didn’t work, and the attendees all chimed in about what they didn’t like. My face burned, my cheeks reddened, and I had a hard time breathing, but I was taking vigorous notes. It was embarrassing. It was a little humiliating, but it was exactly what I needed to take my query letter to the next level. If I didn’t open myself up to this experience and opportunity, I would be running on that hamster wheel, not knowing what to do next.
But the one experience that has forever changed me was the agent/editor live panel at the 2017 ANWA Conference. Weeks before, I decided on a whim to submit my first page to be read aloud and critiqued. Normally, I would never do something like that. In that moment, I decided that if I ever wanted to achieve my writing goals, I had to start putting myself out there. I had to be willing to be hurt and bleed a little.
When the live panel began, I completely forgot that I submitted my first page. I was sitting blissfully in the audience until the lady next to me mentioned that the presenter was nervous she wouldn’t read the pieces correctly. She explained that ten writers submitted their work, and then it hit me. I was one of those writers.
I thought about flagging down the presenter and snatching my paper. I wondered how I could’ve ever let myself be so foolish. What had I been thinking?
It was too late. I hoped they would run out of time before she got to mine. That didn’t happen. As she read my first page, my insides felt like they would spontaneously combust. I wanted to leave the country, change my identity, and never come back.
Then as soon as it began, it was over. The panel members gave me some constructive feedback, and the comments were glowing. So was I. After that class, a member of the panel requested that the writer of that piece come get his card and requested the full manuscript. Cloud nine had never felt so delightful.
I sent my manuscript, and I waited months and months and months (Did I mentioned months?). They recently declined. It did not end in a contract. It didn’t even end in feedback other than the no. But because I put myself out there, it made me stronger, no matter how weak I felt in the beginning and when I received the rejection. The entire experience reminded me that I am a writer, that I have ideas and stories to share. It reminded me that I am capable.
Kurt Vonnegut said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
That is the writer’s journey. Don’t be afraid to propel yourself off a writing cliff. How else will you know what you’re made of?
I'm an adjunct creative writing professor and freelance writer, but I dream of being a published novelist. This is my journey.