But I really want Madison to do her best. I know how hard she has worked. I know how many hours she has practiced. I know she wants to do well.
And so it begins. She jumps on the beam and a row of judges begin dissecting her every move. They take notes. They search for the slightest error. Oops, she swung her leg too much. Oops, she paused there. Oops, her toes aren’t pointed. Oops, she wobbled a bit. Deduction. Deduction. Deduction.
Now I know what you're thinking. Madison does her thing under pressure in front of a hundred people and a panel of judges. Sheri does her thing while wearing pajamas and sipping tea in the solitude of her comfortable home. But stay with me here. There are plenty of opportunities for a writer to feel judged. Like at my first writer’s conference.
I sat down with one of the speakers for my one-on-one session. While most attendees were pitching story ideas or submitting articles, I needed only one thing: a sign. A sign that said I wasn't totally crazy for thinking I might try this writing thing. I handed over my paper and forced a smile.
“I’d just like your overall feedback, please.”
She took the paper, cleared her throat and started skimming through my article. I sat quietly, twisting my ring around my finger and staring at my shoes. From the corner of my eye, I watched her draw a circle around a paragraph. She scribbled something in the margin. I glanced her way.
Wait, did she just smile? Oh my goodness she laughed. Was that a good laugh or a bad laugh?
Finally, she placed the paper on her lap and turned to me. Over the next few minutes she gently shared helpful tips to improve my writing. And thankfully, she also gave me a sign.
“I can see you have the heart of a writer. You think like a writer. You’re able to take an event and pull the truth out of it.”
Alight then. That’s all I needed to hear.
It didn't become any easier once I started getting published. Now I was sending story ideas and articles to real-live editors. I’d hold my breath; hit the “send” key and obsessively check my email for some kind of response. A response that would basically say either, “Nah, I’m not interested in this,” or “Say, this isn't half-bad.”
It’s great when my work gets published, but even that brings a new kind of scary. For example, I've been told that Guideposts Magazine currently has two million subscribers (which translates to around six million readers.) That's six million readers with total freedom to express their opinions and comment (especially on social media) however they see fit!
But I’m learning something through it all. Whenever you put yourself out there – whenever you try something new or out of your comfort zone – there will always be someone that’s happy to critique you.
“Did you have fun?”
“Did you try your best?”
“Did you learn something from your mistakes?”
“Then try not to let it get you down. You had fun – and you did the best you could do for today.”
And I should probably take my own advice.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against constructive criticism. My writing only gets better after my critique group takes a shot at it. But I do need to keep the right perspective. I can’t let the opinions of others discourage me.
I like what Elizabeth Berg said in her book, Escaping into the Open. She said, “Never mind what anyone has to say about your work, be it good or bad. Know that it’s necessary that you love your work, and let yourself do that.”
At the end of the day, I need to ask myself: Did I enjoy writing this? Did I do my best? Did I learn from this experience? Most importantly, do I love my work? Only I can answer those questions. Only I can be the judge of that.
- Lysa Terkeurst