Stop Telling Me I’m Awesome. That’s What My Mom Is For
You’re a writer. You love words. And sometimes, when you’re really on, you put words together in such a way that you could cry because they read so beautifully. And if you’re like me, you read them again and again and again. You read them until your eyes are crossed and you’re fairly certain you’ve read them eleventy billion times. And then on the next read, for some reason, the words don’t sound as awesome as they did before. They don’t look as pretty and maybe the cadence is a bit off. Maybe all along during those reads, they didn’t really come together to make The Most Amazing Metaphor of All Time.
So, you ask a friend to read it. And your friend, being your friend, tells you that it’s awesomeamazingspectacular. It’s The Most Amazing Metaphor of All Time. And she also tells you that you’re pretty. Because she’s your friend.
When I’m writing, I don’t need friends. I need Mean Girls. Capital M. Capital G. Mean Girls who wear pink every day—not just on Wednesday. Poke holes in my plots, tell me to dump the purple prose, point out that I have a blatant disregard for the semi-colon and an obsession with starting sentences with And. Help me make my words the best words they can be before I send them off into the world to fend for themselves.
This is why workshopping works. My very first workshop experience was terrifying. I wasn’t allowed to speak for the first half hour of the meeting while the participants ripped apart my latest chapter. Sure, there was a lot of positive feedback, but it was very difficult listening to criticism without jumping to my own defense. It took a lot of work on my part to sit back and really listen to what was being said. Even if I didn’t agree, who’s to say that other readers wouldn’t have the same reaction? I needed every questionable action my characters made questioned. It gave me the opportunity to go back and solidify anything shaky.
So, is it wrong to send the new short story you wrote to your mom, your sister, your bestie, your Aunt Carol? No. Of course not. We all need positive reinforcement. But have a team—people who will tell you that they’re just not into you when they’re just not into you. They’ll tell you that your main character isn’t just stuffy, she’s bordering on unlikable. They’ll tell you that you’re swearing too much and you need to buy Eats, Shoots and Leaves and if you’re really, really lucky like I am—when all is said and done—they’ll still tell you that you’re pretty.
Tracy Sweeney lives north of Boston, Massachusetts with her two young boys. Her short stories have appeared in Literary Juice, Solecisms and Slice of Life Magazines. When she’s not letting her seven-year old beat her in Angry Birds, she’s working on her second novel.