Trip to Ireland, July 1999
“How will I know (Don’t trust your feelings)
How will I know…
I’m asking you what you know about these things”
-Walden, Narada Michael; Rubicam, Shannon; Merril George Robert. Song “How Will I Know” Whitney Houston
Yesterday morning, when it was clear that I wasn’t subbing, I became excited to have a block of writing time. Since I decided to write at least four hours on the days I didn’t have a sub job, I’d only gotten the opportunity last Wednesday. Let me tell you, those four hours flew. I edited my work and other people’s work, and polished my post for the blog. I can’t wait to get caught up on my edits so I can begin the new piece.
Today is “Evacuation Day” in Cambridge and Boston, so there’s no school. (I’m sure the fact that it’s also St. Patrick’s Day has nothing to do with it.) Evacuation Day is when the Americans evacuated the British from Boston during the American Revolution. Although it would be nice to have off for the holiday, 1) I don’t get paid, and 2) with children at home, there’s less time to write.
On Saturday, I bought On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, both which were recommended by a number of writers’ blogs that I follow. I decided to begin with King’s book first. One passage on page 136 stuck with me:
“… while it’s impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it’s equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”
This begged the question, am I bad writer or a competent one? In other words, am I without hope or is there some raw material to work with? How do I know? I shoved the doubt deep down, and went on my merry way… until last night.
I mentioned in last week’s post* that I had entered Miss Snark’s First Victim’s latest contest. Although I didn’t expect to win, I wanted feedback. Something was bothering me about the beginning and I knew it. After reading, Hooked by Les Edgerton, I played around with the opening scene, but I feared that I’d made it worse. It’s hard to put myself out there, but how else will I improve? I agree with my blogger friend, Rebecca** – I feel naked!
The feedback has been invaluable – it was just what I needed in order to make it right. As I read the comments, I knew the protagonist needed to start in the kitchen, and then her mother could comment on her clothing, which would be a way to introduce the sixth-sense. This "gift" needed more explanation and more excitement (Hook). I got it.
But I was still waiting for the secret agent’s feedback to begin the rewrite. The Authoress posted a delay in feedback from the agent, and I decided to see if I had any new comments. One wound up being mean-spirited. Before this one, I already had a bunch of comments, so I knew where I’d missed the mark. She just wound up saying I didn’t have a hook (got that already) and the rest was harsh. In the back of my mind, I know that if I put myself out there, I have to be ready to hear the good, bad, and ugly, but I didn’t dwell on the fact that critique can be downright BEASTLY.
I couldn’t help it – I went over to the snarky commenter’s blog. That should’ve made me feel better. Her profile was odd and her blog was… I don’t know… odder. And she has none of her own books published, so should she act like the Simon Cowell of critiquing? Then I reminded myself of all the positive feedback that my dialogue piece received on The Authoress's site. But the commenter's words stuck with me and I repeated them in my head like a mental patient.
While I mentioned the comment in passing to my husband last night, I wasn’t honest until this morning about how demoralized I’d gotten from it. He gave me a hard time for giving myself a hard time. I knew he was right, but… have I mentioned that I’m needy and insecure and sometimes, pathetic? How do I know if I’m a bad writer? Maybe this snarky chick is the only one who will tell me the truth.
In a past post, I've mentioned Malcolm Gladwell and his 10,000 hours needed to perfect talent*** (Of course, there’s a premise that there’s talent, which is NOT established in this case). My husband put, What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell in my hands. After he finished the book, I started it, but put it aside to read The Percy Jackson series and writing advice books. He told me to read the chapter “Late Bloomers”.
Me, a late bloomer? One week and two days until the BIG birthday, six days after my one-year anniversary subbing? And I just realized that April is the four-year anniversary of when I let myself first write. Four years? I’d better be a late bloomer or I’m in trouble.
I decided to take a break from my inner-madness. My son and I rode our bicycles to Boca Grande, where we bought burritos and ate them by the Charles River. This ride on a beautiful St. Patrick’s/Evacuation Day cleared my head.
When I returned home, I read the chapter. Turns out that prodigies start early with little rewrites and agony, and tend to do their best work young. Late Bloomers agonize, rewrite or repaint many times, and then succeed later in life. Gladwell uses the author, Ben Fountain as an example for his theory:
“He quit is job… in 1988. For every story he published in those early years, he had at least thirty rejections. The novel that he put away in a drawer took him four years. The dark period lasted for the entire second half of the 1990s. His breakthrough with Brief Encounters came in 2006, eighteen years after he first sat down to write… took the literary world by storm at the age of forty-eight.”
And you should read what he said about Mark Twain and Cezanne.
Am I a late bloomer? Only time will tell.
“Oh, time is on my side, yes it is
Time is on my side, yes it is”
- Ragovoy, Jerry. Song “Time Is on My Side” The Rolling Stones
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
* Previous post that mentions contest:
** Check out Rebecca’s opening of her WIP (I know you’ll be kind):
*** One of my early posts: