The act of writing – and therefore the designation of being a writer – is both a very big deal and nothing special.
If we’re going to grow in what we want to be, we’ve got to be honest about what it means: the ins and outs, ups and downs of what we’re doing. And yes, that includes admitting how there’s nothing all that special about being a writer in and of itself.
Look at it this way…
Jot anything down on paper or type it up on a computer. Just like that, voila! You wrote something. Therefore, you’re a writer.
It’s truly that easy.
But if you want your writing to mean something exceptional… If you want to make a positive diﬀerence in your own life and perhaps even someone else’s… Then you need to stop thinking of it as a mere action and start looking at it as a legacy.
You can be composing a serious nonﬁction work, your autobiography or some far-off, fantastical piece of ﬁction. It can be a 279-word blog post, a three-page corporate communication or a ﬁve-part book series.
Whatever it is, you’re going to impact someone in some way. And we should always strive to make that impact as meaningful as possible.
In order to leave your readers meaningfully impacted, you need to start with the recognition that you’re not perfect. It’s an obvious statement that feels a lot more convoluted putting into practice.
It’s like understanding the objective of shooting pool – to hit the cue ball into select non-cue balls in order to knock them into select pockets – and actually trying to do so. If we haven't practiced, we're probably going to find it difficult to enact. And even if we have practiced, we're not going to shoot perfectly every single time.
In the same way, we’re usually realistic enough about admitting our need for improvement when we’re talking in generalities. But when someone else points out a particular imperfection of ours, our ﬁrst reaction is often to get defensive.
And when we’re defensive, we don’t listen. Not really.
That’s true of life in general. And it’s true of writing in particular. We want to be universally appreciated, approved of, loved and/or respected.
I could go on for chapters and chapters about the reasons behind that mentality. But since this is a writing e-letter and not a psychological study, let’s save some time and just admit we’re not perfect… either in theory or in practice.
Once we do, we’re free to acknowledge constructive criticism instead of being wounded by it.
It’s important to note a crucial verb in the sentence above. The one that goes: “Once we do, we’re free to acknowledge constructive criticism instead of being wounded by it.”
Acknowledge, mind you. Not accept. There’s no rule in the writing universe that says you have to take every opinion someone offers you about your work.
Considering how many different opinions there are about what writing should look like – half of them contradictory – you’d go insane trying to accept them all. Even so, you should at least consider them, even if for just 10 seconds.
Sometimes 10 seconds is all it takes to tell that an offered opinion is a dumb one. Other times, you can tell that quickly that an offered opinion just isn’t right for you. It would take your writing in a different direction than you think it should go.
There’s nothing automatically wrong with either conclusion.
But there’s also nothing automatically wrong with someone else concluding that your sentences run on too long. Or that your characters aren’t as compelling as they could be. Or that your points could be structured more logically.
So, recognizing that you’re human in need of growth – that we all are – take the 10 seconds to consider whether your constructive criticizer has a point.
If those 10 seconds stir some further searching inside of you, take another 10 seconds. Perhaps longer. Then see how you can use that constructive criticism to grow.
It’s that willingness to think that can turn your act of writing into something special.