A Writer’s Toughest Critic

I was at the grocery store the other day running some errands, and as I was browsing through turkey bags and potato chips I decided to make a run through the book section.

Not to browse through and find something I actually wanted to read, mind you.  Since I’m readying to publish my first book, I decided to check out my book’s competition.

I know, I know.  It’s totally shallow of me.  I also ate three no-bake cookies that morning with breakfast.  I was having a very human day.

But the reasoning of checking out said books was more of a confidence check for myself, since I’m being completely honest.  I don’t expect my books (when they are published) to be anywhere near the bestseller list when they come out, because hey – let’s be realistic…I’m a relatively unknown author – but I was having a moment of self-doubt and needed reassurance.  I wanted to see if my books, my writing style, was good enough to enter the wonderful world of fiction.

I’m about to enter a market where a lot of talented people work and thrive.  I’m a little fish jumping into the ocean thinking I can swim with whales.

And since I have two betta fish at home, I can only imagine how they’d be in the ocean.  They’d be terrified (especially when they find out there’s no fish flakes in the Atlantic.)

So I went to the book section and started browsing.  I wanted to see if my writing ability could be on par with other authors.  I picked up a thriller, opened the pages, and settled on the first chapter to read.

To my surprise, the chapter was okay.  The writing style wasn’t to my personal taste and it was filled with adjectives with every other word, but I found myself thinking, “Huh.  Well I think my writing might at least be on this level.  Maybe even better.”

I put it back and picked up another book of general fiction.  When I opened and read, I found the writing style eloquent, fancy, and highly intellectual.  Whoever wrote the book was a master of grammar and voice.  It was no surprise this was on the bestseller shelf.

Yep…that author was way better than me.  My book was surely doomed.

But as I kept on browsing, picking up a few different genres like action, young adult, and romance, I found myself seeing something unique about all the writers.  The way they shaped their words wasn’t explicitly bad or good…it was just…different.  I found myself questioning the very notion of what I considered “good writing”.  I limited it to one style, highly detailed and highly perfect, and I figured that if my writing didn’t match up to what I considered “good writing” (or what I was taught “good writing” to be), then my own writing was terrible.

After reading through the various books, however, I realized my writing was just like the other authors’.  It’s not bad, it’s not good.  It’s just different…unique.

I left the book section that morning with a change of mind.  I went in worrying if my books were going to be “good enough” for people to read, but I left realizing that my books are as good as I see them to be.  No matter how unique the style is, someone, somewhere will like it (just as someone, somewhere won’t.)  As authors, none of us write the same.  We all have different voices and different styles that can reach a broad audience.  And yet that’s what makes writing so beautiful.  It’s diverse, full of different voices and styles to appeal to everyone, coming together as one broad voice known as literature.

I learned a lesson that day in the grocery store – a lesson I already knew but never really took to heart.  My toughest critic isn’t the reader, nor is it the reviewer.  It’s myself.  I’ve been the one who has been thinking my writing needed improvement.  I’ve been the one who said my work wasn’t good enough.

That isn’t to say it hasn’t needed improvement.  I’ve learned some lessons over the years that has helped my writing get better, and the constructive criticism I’ve received has been extremely beneficial.  But constructive criticism aside, I learned I needed to stop being so hard on myself.  Stop comparing, stop self-criticizing, stop worrying.  I need to be my biggest supporter, not my greatest enemy.

As creators, it’s easy to become perfectionists in our work.  It’s also easy for us to be bogged down by insecurity or fear of not being good enough.  Whether it’s in creating story or creating art, talent comes in many shapes and forms, but it isn’t talent that purely grows success.  There’s another important ingredient, something that can even overshadow talent.  It’s confidence-confidence in our work, confidence in ourselves, and confidence that we can do anything we put our mind to, as long as we work hard and believe.

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