Ryan Edward has been out of town for the last three days and I had big plans. One of my goals for January was to deep clean and repaint our master bedroom. The three days Ryan would be out of town seemed like the perfect time, cereal for dinner, dishes stacking up in the kitchen, me with no time for hygiene of any kind. I was up until the a.m. hours painting for two nights straight. Mix in the needs of four kids, visiting teaching appointments and a middle school newsletter deadline. It was an experiment in psychology!
I wasn’t even daring to think about the upcoming writer’s group meeting when I took a break to check my emails and facebook. I was hoping for a little contact with the outside world. A funny video clip, an inspirational song, a hint that there was still life outside of the paint fumes and the stark colors I had been staring at as they left the roller and clung to the wall (and were desperately scrubbed from drips on my carpet).
I wasn’t prepared for a reply to the first chapter I had sent out to this new critique group. It was from a man that I immediately respected at the first meeting. He’s a man, mind you, and he writes (probably among many impressive things) articles for fishing magazines. He writes beautiful, funny, manly, crass-in-a-good-way articles about the outdoors and life. He’s far from my target audience, but he’s brilliant at writing and critiquing. I knew right away that I wanted to impress him and I knew that he’d be one of the most helpful people I would ever get to read my work… if I was tough enough to handle it.
I wasn’t. *insert weak, weak shrug* He had a million genius suggestions for me. He told me about rules I was breaking that I didn’t know existed. He had a blunt but funny way of critiquing and I found myself laughing and snorting through tears. I suddenly needed Ryan and he was out of town. I suddenly needed to climb into my bed and not have to weave through wet paint and drop cloths to get to it. I suddenly wished I was well rested and at my most sane.
I wasn’t upset that my work wasn’t as good as it could be. I knew that. I was upset because I had deemed myself good enough to go and become a part of this group, and the truth was they knew a lot more than I did. I was a newbie, wet behind the ears, making mistakes that they shake their heads at. I didn’t want to go to the next day’s meeting. I knew they’d all tell me the same things that the email had. I could suddenly identify with those unfortunate American Idol try-outers who are so hopeless it’s embarrassing and nobody ever told them until they “out”ed themselves, publicly, to strangers.
I would find a way to justify missing the meeting and never going back. I would tell myself that I needed a few more years of practice before I was ready for a writer’s group. I would hide, make excuses and somehow find a way to live with my cowardice. I would give up my dream of writing. I would donate plasma for an income when my children would all be in school full time.
My husband would tell me that he understood my decision, but I would know deep down that he was disappointed in me. When my Dad passed away, Ryan told me that I was brave. He said that he saw something in me that he didn’t know was there.
I got to thinking, all writers get critiqued and the only difference between a critiqued writer who fails and one who succeeds is that the one who succeeds doesn’t quit. I’m a beginner. I’m starting out. There’s only one way to learn most of these techniques, and that’s to make the mistakes and have someone point them out. To swallow your pride and own your inexperience and humbly say, the one thing I can definitely keep doing is trying.
I cleaned myself up. It was tough after three days of no hygiene. No sleep +crying= puffy eyes. I scrubbed the paint splatters from my arms. I changed my clothes three times. I said hello and goodbye to Ryan and turned the kids over to him. I walked into the meeting ten minutes late.
It took forever for it to be my turn. The guy who had sent me the email critique was sitting next to me. I made a little joke about how he had baptized me into the group by fire. Everyone chuckled. Then everyone, especially he, encouraged me! They told me what was promising about my writing and about my book. They gave me ideas. They discussed and debated what direction I should go in. Two of the girls whom I adored at the first meeting and who write in the same genre as I do approached my friend and me about having a secondary, smaller, critique group. It was what I’d been hoping for!
On the way home I realized it. I’ve never been closer to being a writer than I was in that moment. That moment when I laid it all on the line, accepted the fact that it wasn’t good enough yet, decided that one day it would be and stared down the challenge of making it so. The reality is I’ll be re-writing a lot. The reality is being a writer is hard work. The reality is that it will all make me better and that’s what I want. The reality is I was really proud of myself… and to think… I almost quit.