For a long while (maybe a long, long while) you work in the dark. No one really knows what you create or why. People hear whispers that ‘…she writes…’ but either we don’t show our work or very few people in our lives are punching each other for the right to read the manifest of our genius.
Or– maybe things did hum along in school and you had classmates and teachers to bounce ideas off of, to admire your way with words. Your teachers’ job was partly to read your work and help you. But in the post-college world, people look at you weirdly if you offer them money and hand them a novel to read. 😉
For myself, for a long time, positive feedback felt like a sip of water in the desert — enough to keep me alive, but never totally satiated (though I would have walked the desert forever anyway, dead or alive — still writing for myself). My dad liked an early work, my mom said (of a screenplay) that she’d wait for the movie. My grandmother connected with a beginning piece; my grandfather pointed out errors. As someone home schooled, my audience was limited.
Then in 2002, I joined my first critique group. Suddenly I was getting feedback from 4-7 people every month or two. As the youngest member of the group, as well as newest writer, I learned so much. Like the dangers of cliches and -ly words and — that people often loved the things I loved.
But those same things I would doubt. I would think, ‘Sure, I love this two-page aside about the first time my assassin was ever in this city, but won’t everyone else think it’s a waste of time?’ Hint: If you LOVE something to the depths of your soul, very few people reading your work will every feel like it’s a waste of time.
After a couple of years, the group drifted apart and the applause lessened. My grandmother and sister were steady fans but I didn’t hear too much from anyone else.
I also didn’t join another critique group, for the reason that I wanted to go off and be weird by myself for a while. I wanted to grow and try things without anyone telling me what could and couldn’t be done. In hindsight, it was a great decision.
It took me eight years to finish my first novel (2002-2010) and I got a couple of good reviews from readers. Then I started writing shorter novels at a faster clip — five more over the next ten years. The feedback was getting better but still there seemed to be challenges, something missing between my aim and my grasp.
In 2017 I met a recent LA transplant, Katiedid Langrock, and that fall I took an eight week class from her about writing for film. The previous spring I had returned to my first love — screenwriting — and started working on a feature film script. From the class I got lots of good advice — and some good praise from Katiedid and my classmates. I was on the right track.
Since then I have written two film scripts, two TV drama pilots, and a Rick & Morty spec script. And now, after twenty years of growing yet subtle praise, I am starting to hear something else — something wilder and more enthusiastic. People, more than one or two, really like these scripts — my sister (a high bar of what’s awesome) really loved my unicorn screenplay, the three people who have read my R&M script loved it (spitting-coffee-while-laughing loved it), and my script feedback partner, the talented and very discerning Kathryn Kyker, has started giving me some really positive notes — about the stuff I loved but had doubts about!
What’s the point of all this talk? Only that, as we must get used to working in silence for a long while, we must also awaken to the sound of people loving what we do.
And we must act on it.
See, for a long time (a long, long time?) I was content to focus on learning, on getting better, and felt like being a professional was still further down the line. Don’t get me wrong, I sent out tons of query letters, attended conferences, etc but I still felt ‘not quite ready’.
But now, I’m realizing that I’m ready enough.
The rest of this year is for polishing these sample scripts and sending them out into the world. I know I still have a lot to learn but I also know people are starting to really respond to what I have to offer.
You may inspire one person or millions, but there comes a time when you need to own your awesomeness. Compare yourself not to your heroes, your friends, or your teachers. Stop waiting for permission to be great. I ask you now to start falling in love with who you were born to be, to become the biggest fan of your vision — your unique, passionate weirdness. And to bring forth your most excellent, crazy-fantastic “say-what?” works into the world.
Whatever season of writing you’re in — supported, solitary, ridiculed, or revered — I hope you can appreciate and love this time. I know one thing for sure: While some of the things I love others may never respond to in the same way, writing them made me very, very happy. And while positive feedback is very encouraging and critical feedback can be very helpful, the journey of a writer is primarily a solo one.
Only you know how truly far you have come, know where the hardest hills or stoniest roads were, only you remember every mile and marker. Only you have seen the most beautiful of sunrises.
And, most of all, you’re the only one who knows — in the midst of the cheering and claps — how very exciting the next step will be.
‘Cause they ain’t seen nothing yet.