Guest Blogger Rayne Wolfe, Author of Toxic Mom Toolkit, talks about the pain and acceptance of comments and criticism when others critique your writing.
“Listening to criticism with an open heart is hard, but it always pays off.”
I was in a classroom at the Catamaran Literary Conference in Pebble Beach, my first writing conference ever, and a fellow writer was ripping my work apart. I could feel the shame rise up in my chest, coloring my neck and face with a dark blush.
Sitting there among very accomplished writers, including literary prizewinners, even college professors who were all certainly better writers than me, my ears began to ring. Nerves.
This fellow writer, who ran her own popular writing conference each summer, was picking apart a chapter from my new book.
After publishing my memoir, Toxic Mom Toolkit in 2013, I was tackling a companion workbook on going “no contact” with very toxic people, including toxic mothers.
My chapter draft began:
You’ve told losers to hit the road.
You’ve left jobs that were demanding demoralizing dead-ends.
You’ve even moved from one end of the country to the other – one of the most stressful things you can do – other than giving a Ted Talk. So why is it to hard to break up with your toxic mother?
As my blush rose past my chin and raced up towards my eyebrows, the writer was saying in front of everyone,
“As I was reading this, my first thought was, well, don’t a lot of people who were raised in toxic families have a hard time asserting themselves? Some of these things you’re assuming everyone has done –- I haven’t done, when maybe I wanted to. Some people are timid and I think you should mix these up with much smaller life victories…”
Trying to listen and smile at the same time, a wonderful thought hit me: Yeah, this might feel bad in the moment but it was no different than notes from a first reader.
Plus – dang it! – She was absolutely right. My opener needed work.
Over my ringing ears I visualized a slew of very personal essays I’ve written for newspapers and magazines. I recently contributed a story about my father to The Adoptee’s Handbook. My memoir about growing up with a toxic mother includes neglect and abuse. With over 5,000 printed articles under my byline, I’d earned my writer’s thick skin, hadn’t I?
First readers, those smart people you pick to be your second set of eyes, are usually trusted fellow writers. They should understand you and your topics but also look at life a bit differently than you.
When I was writing Toxic Mom Toolkit, I chose five first readers. My team included a couple of writers I’ve known for over 15 years, then I added some wild cards: my friend the dairy rancher who is an avid reader, my friend the landscaper who always wins at Trivia Pursuit, and my husband, Mr. Logical. After three years of writing and double-checking and editing, they each found typos and logic breaks and repetitions of parts of stories I had missed.
It is in trusting first readers to help you, that you can feel confident with your final manuscript.
I looked up and made eye contact with the woman giving me feedback. Realizing she was no different than a blessed first reader, I smiled and felt the rush of nerves subside.
Listening to criticism with an open heart is hard, but it always pays off. At the end of the four-day conference I drove home with a big smile and a folder full of great feedback from very generous fellow writers.
Rayne Wolfe will be the presenter at the October 15, 2015 Writers Forum, talking about The Art of the Interview.