Skip to content

Own Worst Critic

July 8, 2012

Last week, my first short story was due for my writing class.

We were each given a sub-genre in fantasy or science fiction and a target audience, randomly chosen. I was provided with “Dark Fantasy” and “Middle Grade.” There’s a problem with that. My “dark fantasy” tends to creep closer to “horror,” and my “horror” tends to be violent, shocking, and creepy. Middle grade? Really?

The professor suggested I turn to Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. I read the first four books, and I have to say, what a thorough waste of talent. As I was reading through it, I kept thinking, “You’re obviously a good writer, so why are you dragging me through the exact same sludge over and over?” You see it sometimes with author. They’re very good at writing one particular book, so they write that exact same book over and over (see: Redwall. WHICH IS BRILLIANT. Just, you know, not a lot of variety.)

Anyway, so I managed to get through four books of that. It was darker than I’d expected, considering the professor had talked about middle grade being a challenge for dark fantasy because of limited violence and, well, dark themes. I guess I momentarily forgot exactly how dark kids’ books can get. Silly me.

Stock image purchased from cutcaster

But, see, going into it, I’d gotten this idea in my head that my assignment was going to be about writing something dark that was also very kid-friendly, so rather than push the boundaries of my target audience, I decided to challenge myself.

I came up with something, but I wasn’t too fond of it. It felt forced. I thought it was transparent: reading through, you could see all of my struggles as a writer to fit in plot points that were both adventurous and low-key. I felt like I’d made a quilt having never touched a needle and thread before. All of my sloppy stitches were there for the world to see. When I turned it in, I was embarrassed.

I got in back, and here’s what was written across the top:

“Really terrific story — you’ve got real talent and need to stick with this!”

So, that was good.

I’ll be honest, it made me feel great to receive that praise, and I’m gloating a little. But I still don’t like that short story. So, what does that mean?

It means that all of the novel attempts and short stories that I abandoned as hopeless may be worth a second look. It means that I’m my own worse critic, and that is only going to hold me back. It means that hating everything I write is really $%@#ing stupid and I should stop criticizing myself into the ground.

One of my favorite famous author stories is that of Stephen King’s Carrie. He hated the manuscript of it so much, he crumpled it up and threw it away. His wife fished the pages out of the trash and told him to keep going. Some time later, the paperback rights to the book were sold to a publisher for four hundred thousand dollars.

I’m no Stephen King, of course. I can’t even begin to compare myself to him. But that story has always made me feel a little better about what I’m doing.

I think I’m also starting to understand how the short story works. We received our second assignment, due this Thursday, and I had a concept almost immediately. I’ve stumbled a few times with figuring out the specifics, but I’ve got a plot put together.

It’s funny, I always think of myself as “self confident” and a “decent writer,” but I’m realizing exactly how much I tear myself down as I write. I need to stop throwing stuff away.

So, lesson learned. Hopefully.


From → General Advice

  1. “I felt like I’d made a quilt having never touched a needle and thread anymore. All of my sloppy stitches were there for the world to see.” – Really liked that. Great way of displaying that feeling of paranoia when people aren’t sure of there work.

    • Thank you! I appreciate your comment. Though you made me realize I mistyped – that should be “before,” not “anymore.” Must fix…

  2. It’s hard, isn’t it? In maths or science one answer is usually right or wrong. In anything creative there are so many ‘right’ answers and even the ‘wrong’ ones can be worked on and improved.

    • It is hard. Surprisingly so, sometimes. Though you’re right, there is no clear right or wrong. I guess I should just keep at it! Thanks for commenting 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: