It’s easy to sit on this side of the keyboard and write insightful anecdotes, but there’s always more beneath the surface. And once in a while, someone will challenge me on it.
Recently I joined an online writers’ group and I love it. I feel validated, have a safe space to try new ideas, and gain new insights about my craft every time I sign on. It has given me newfound confidence, and my writing already shows improvement.
One really important component of the group is receiving (and providing) feedback. Move this part to the end. Could you build out this idea a little more? Shorten your sentences. I’m not sure I get your point. Wow, you really drew me in with that line. Getting that kind of information is invaluable, particularly when provided for no other reason than to elevate the work at hand. It helps so much more than someone simply saying she likes the work or doesn’t.
Last week I posted a difficult essay. It addressed an inflammatory topic I’ve been hesitant to tackle, and I knew it still needed a lot of work. I felt equally curious and apprehensive about the feedback I would receive.
The comments that started trickling in were generally positive. Okay, I thought. Maybe I can make this into something. Then I got a comment that started with Wow! What a well-written, raw and honest piece… and ended with Well done! In the middle, however, lurked a phrase that knocked me backward. Oof.
[Although it might add clarity to this post, I don’t feel ready to share the actual comment. Not because it’s bad–it’s absolutely not–but because I’m still chewing on it.]
The observation addressed my portrayal of one of the people involved and added a label I hadn’t expected.
Surely that can’t be right.
That label belonged to me. I had written the essay about a personal situation, but it hadn’t looked quite the same from the inside out. Apparently I had done an excellent job painting a word picture of someone who, well, wasn’t who she thought she was.
Or had I missed something?
With new eyes, I tried to look from the outside in. Introspection can be a cruel friend, I (re)learned. My fellow writer was right. 100% right. She had not mislabeled me; I was Miss Labeled.
What she had meant as a compliment, I took to a deeper level. If I am that person, what do I need to change to shed the label? What do I need to bring into the light so I can see it and deal with it? Where will this lead me?
For one thing, it has the power to help me become a better writer. The more I feel, the better I write. The wrestling involved with trying to move out of a place of discomfort makes for more powerful expression. At least, it does for me.
The whole point of joining this group was to help me become a better writer. Sure, I felt gob-smacked for a minute (or a few hours), but this is what I signed up for. So I’ll celebrate the discomfort and hope it leads to growth, not only as a writer, but as a person too.