Monday, October 04, 2010

Writing is Like...Working Out?

In my mid-30s, I spent a lot of time at the gym...and NO time writing. At the time, I had nothing better to do, honestly. All my friends were workout fiends and, living alone, you start to do anything to avoid going home to your empty apartment every night. So you hang out at the gym with the other "steroid heads." (My affectionate nickname for these guys):

I didn't want all that. I just wanted a toned, thin body so I could wear summer clothes without feeling flabby. I learned something from all that working out. The entire process of building muscle involves tearing that muscle. You tear, then it builds back stronger. You tear some more, even stronger. And so on.

When I returned to novel-writing after a three-year hiatus (which I spent obsessively blogging), one of the first things I did was join an online critique group. I posted one chapter and was promptly skewered. The chapter, in a word, sucked. Okay, they used a whole bunch of words for it. By the time they were finished ripping it to shreds, I figured it was unredeemable. Better toss it aside and start over on a new book.

But then I stopped myself. Was I really avoiding this criticism? Criticism is what built my talent in the first place. I spent most of my 20s in and out of critique groups, where my writing was labeled 'shallow,' 'trite,' 'contrived.' I had editors tear me down, while telling me they loved my voice. The story just wasn't working for them.

And with each new book I took that advice and applied it. Sure, the negativity weighed me down at times...and I could have given up. But I had enough encouragement to stick with it, plus I'm one of those writers who can't NOT write. It's in my blood. Even if I were never published, I'd still be happy as long as I wrote something every day of my life.

When I think of that naive girl I was at 24, starting my first young adult series about teens working in a movie theater, I feel a bit of nostalgia. Oh, to be so foolishly confident again. I had no doubts at that fears at all. I was sure I'd put "The End" on my manuscript, ship it off to a publisher, and be the next Francine Pascal in no time.

Then came my first rejection.

More rejections followed. I found Romance Writers of America and co-founded the first Nashville chapter of the organization. I attended workshops -- GAVE workshops. I met published authors and unpublished authors. I read everything I could get my hands on about writing. And I suffered rejections like you wouldn't believe.

But with each one, I grew stronger. They tore my writing muscle so it would grow back stronger. And that, my writing friends, is why you don't toss the detailed critiques of your contest entries into the trash without reading them. You read every word. You feel the pain and move forward. You read it over, scream in anger and say you're never writing again...then, once you've calmed down, you go in and take the advice of these strangers. Because your work will become stronger for it, but even more than that...YOU'LL become stronger for it. Because in order for that muscle to grow back stronger, it must first be torn down.