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Opinions, Choices and a Spark of Magic

June 22, 2011

Nothing in the world of writing causes me more mix feelings than working with others. Meeting different people who like to do the same thing I do, either online or in person, is a wonderful thing. Feelings are shared, ideas are exposed. It’s all very thrilling. But it is also very terrifying. Sure talking about writing is fun. Hearing an idea is great. Giving an idea is a fulfilling experience. But talking about what I am actually writing is terrifying. As I talk, the voices in the back of my head get louder.

“It’s a disaster,” one says.

“A terrible idea,” says the other.

Another sighs. “What were you thinking when you wrote this?”

The loudest voice grunts. Then it booms against the walls of my mind. “You don’t deserve to call yourself a writer.” Its words are followed by applause.

I begin to shrink in my seat, until I become so tiny that hardly anyone can see me. But I don’t disappear. I can’t disappear unless I run. But the time for running has long passed.

Ok, maybe that scenario is a teeny bit exaggerated. I don’t really shrink in my seat; but I might as well.  I feel very uncomfortable at least. And in moments like those, only one thought can redeem me: “Everyone feels that way once in a while.” Other writers are, well, just writers. They are not divine beings that can create a whole word with the blink of an eye. They need to work just as hard as I do to create something worthwhile. Once I have reminded myself of that, I can free my words and let the magic begin. Almost.

Before the magic comes the criticism.  Which can be positive or negative – good or bad. The trick is to choose the good criticism – even if it is negative – and not to let the bad criticism affect my writing – or my self esteem for that matter.

Two strategies help me decide between the good and the bad criticism. The first (and the most useful) strategy I take is to ask “why?” Why does this person say this? Or, if the person does not state a reason, why would I make such a change anyways? If someone says “Your dialogue is boring” without further explanation, I go over my work. If I feel comfortable with my dialogue, I put the comment aside. After all, I know my dialogue is fine the way it is. However, if even before the comment, I did not feel comfortable with my dialogue, I write in the margin of the page “Make this INTERESTING” –yes, I usually write the comment in capital letters. What makes this strategy so important is that I give myself reasons for my editing choices. If I have a good reason behind what I do, I am most likely doing my job right. The second strategy I use to make my decision is looking for a second and sometimes a third or a fourth opinion. If most people comment on my dialogue being boring, then my dialogue is probably boring. If most people like my dialogue, then my dialogue is probably fine. On the other hand, there is always the probability that half of the people I asked to look at my work will like my dialogue and the other half will not. In that case the decision goes back to my good judgment, and to asking “Why change it?” or “Why not change it?”

Honestly, many things fall under the hands of the writer’s good judgment. Still, it is important to look for different opinions before finishing any work. After all, it is difficult to find errors on something one has been working on during a long time –let it be because one thinks it is too wonderful to be flawed, or because one has become so accustomed to some mistakes that one does not notice them anymore.  After hearing (or reading) other opinions, the writer can make more objective choices. And once the choices are made, the magic begins –this time for real. The writer’s work begins to approach its ultimate stage, after which it can be exposed to a public larger than a small audience of people who help during the editing process.

And with the magic, I feel a little bit more confident. Of course, a couple of people will still say a few negative things about my writing, but there will also be many good comments. Besides, having heard most negative comments already, and having considered them, I can defend my choices.

Yet, there is one last problem I must resolve before the whole sharing experience has ended. The voices in the back of my head continue to grumble. However, they do not know that sharing has only made me more confident. Holding my little secret, I turn around to them with a somber expression. Some of them lower their tone. Others falter mid sentence. The loud voice remains oblivious. It continues to shout at me. I take a deep breath, and yell “Silence!” They obey. “I. Don’t. Want. To. Hear. It,” I say. “You are wrong. And I love my work.”

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