Site icon Joanna Campbell Slan

Why Writers Need to Protect Fragile Beginnings…

It happened like this…
I shared three chapters of new work to someone I trust. That person finished reading my words, and said…nothing. NOTHING! Finally, I prompted my reader for a response.
“I want to think about this…” was all I got.
The next day the reader told me how disappointing my ideas were. The reader went on with a laundry list of “I thought you were going to…and I had envisioned.” Yes, I could see a few valid criticisms, and a few ways that my work might improve, but somehow, sadly, all the joy had gone from my project.
I walked the beach and tried to re-kindle my enthusiasm. I ate a lot of carbs not on my diet. I tried to read a book. I tried to nap. No luck.
Mainly, all I want to do is cry.
My reader said, “I think you’re putting too much on me. YOU are being unfair.” 
And then I found this quotation from Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, talking about Steve Jobs:
And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.

Yep. Squished. That’s what I’m feeling. Squished. Squashed flatter than a bug. Like all the wind has gone out of my sails.

So what have I learned from this? (And yes, I know I’m jumping from one POV to another in my list below. Sorry!)

1. Be very, very careful about sharing ideas with other people. Unfortunately, they can become too invested–and this leads other people to have a false sense of ownership. There’s a huge gap between sharing an idea for a book or story and writing the thing. Trust me on this. When you share with other people, it’s very easy for them to “think” they are co-creators. Unless that’s part of the agreement up front, it’s only wishful thinking on their part. I am the artist. I am the creator. They just offered a bit of inspiration. I’m doing the heavy lifting. They aren’t. (This is exactly why so many people WANT to write a book and so few do. A book is more than a couple of ideas. A lot more. Most people can’t handle the long haul.)

2. Do NOT hand your work over to people who have no respect for the creative process. You know who they are. Although my reader’s comments had merit, the delivery system was flawed. Toxic even. I once had a boss who was wonderful with creative folks. He knew that we had to be given a wide berth when we were in the incubation period. He knew that we needed guidance rather than criticism. He came to our presentations with an open mind and no preconceptions. If our work didn’t match what he might have expected, he would say, “Explain to me why you’re taking this tack.” When we strayed, he’d say, “I think the piece could benefit from a bit more blah-blah-blah.'” He was very, very good at getting the best out of us.

3. Learn to say, “Next!” and move on. I’m not going to let this ruin a perfectly joyful experience. So I picked the wrong person to let read my work. That doesn’t mean I picked the wrong project. That doesn’t mean my ideas stink. 

Which leads me to…

4. Realize that you are stronger than this. I need to remind myself that few people have the courage and the drive to see things through from idea to creation. I do. I will. That’s part of my gift. No one can take that from me. 

And so I’ll take a shower, rinse off the nega-cooties and get back to my writing. Boo-ya!

I’m curious. Have you had a similar experience? How did you cope?

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