Inspired by Anna Meade’s recent blog post.
Putting your fiction out there for criticism can be a nerve-wracking prospect. Most writers I know have, at one time or another, believed that their work was no good. Some have frequently considered quitting. A few have never started at all (they’re the “aspiring” writers). A few writers, even some published ones, never leave the safe little cradle of universal praise they’ve built for themselves. Letting fear get the best of you is one of the classic writer pitfalls.
A good friend of mine gave me a great piece of advice back in college. At the time, I was consumed with anxiety over an upcoming astronomy test, and I was terrified I would fail. He rolled his eyes and said “okay, so you fail — and then what? The Earth spins into the sun?” His response, thought not traditionally comforting, shocked me back into a proportional response.
So. You release a fledgling piece of fiction out into the world. A piece that means something to you, something you’ve slaved and worked over. Someone hates it. Someone mocks it. Or, the most likely and painful scenario, no one notices. Your little piece of fiction toddles onto the information superhighway and is immediately run over by a twenty-ton Twitter semi.
What then? The Earth spins into the sun?
Look, setbacks are going to happen. Not everyone is going to like your work. Someone out there might think you’re the worst thing to happen to fiction since reality TV. Are you going to let any of that stop you?
Don’t. Facing the fear of rejection (or indifference) is one of the most important things you’ll ever do as a writer.
The biggest trick will be learning which criticism to take to heart. Not all criticism is useful. Neither is all praise, for that matter. Some of it is just noise, better left forgotten, even when your inner critic is dying to absorb it into your very soul. To grow as a writer, you have to have confidence in your work, but be open-minded to its potential flaws. You have to be mercilessly critical, but not to the point where you compromise the reasons you started writing in the first place. It’s a tricky business, and there’s no clear formula.
The first time I submitted a piece of fiction for publication, I was roundly rejected. That was kinda tough. The second time got easier. I kept practicing, I kept submitting. Eventually, people started noticing me, then paying me. It’s the same thing with flash fiction and Web competitions. The first time, you think no one will care, or you’ll get singled out for mockery. You just have to keep going. Your only alternative is giving up, and let’s face it, giving up is really boring. Persevering in the face of adversity is way more fun.
A great place to begin is to find people you can trust to be tough — readers who know what you’re going for and are willing to tell you when you’re not getting there. But sooner or later, to keep growing, you’re going to have to release your work into a cold and uncaring world.
But don’t worry. The earth won’t spin into the sun. Not today.