And I was humbled… (my writing epiphany)

The other day I had one of those moments – an epiphany, if you like – where I could actually see where I was along my own personal writing journey. It wasn’t a ‘hooray’ epiphany – more of a slow-hand-clap one – because always in retrospect one can’t help thinking Why didn’t I know this already?

Anyway… the point is that I don’t think of myself as a novice writer. I’ve been writing for most of my life, on and off, and pretty seriously for about the last seven years. Like many an HSP when I go about learning a new skill I do it seriously, which means that I learn from a book and then do the work, methodically, pedantically (and yes, slowly).

When I began seriously writing poetry about five years ago I very quickly came to the realization that I really knew nothing about metre, form, style, rhythm. I had to correct this, so I did some research on books about writing poetry and began the work. Thankfully, I discovered Stephen Fry’s excellent The Ode Less Travelled, so the learning and the ‘work’ – as such – were a pure joy. So poetry-wise… I’m a little more confident of myself.

Yet when it comes to prose I haven’t really done the work. I HAVE been practising though and because I’ve had a few successes and publications I guessed that I could (in the main) ‘do’ article writing and fiction.

So when a short story I’d written a while ago was torn to shreds (okay, I’m exaggerating here, but I’m doing it for dramatic effect) by my editor-pal (okay, he’s not an editor-pal, he’s my very kind husband, but really, he is one of the best editors I know!) I was pretty crestfallen (a sobbing wreck). Again, it’s an HSP thing… I get very upset by criticism (even when I know it’s sound) because I find it difficult to separate my personal worth from the words that I’ve crafted.

But… I’m working on this. And because we *try* our very best to communicate well with each other, everyone in my family knows that it’s okay to have (and show) these feelings of upset… but that afterwards we move on and try to learn from what has happened.

So, here was the epiphany: I have to do the work when it comes to writing fiction. Yes, my story was written a long while ago, so I know I’ve improved since then, but I had edited it only recently, and clearly, none of the story’s faults presented itself to me then.

What I have to do is this: learn to read more critically as a reader, and really take the time to learn more about creating believable characters, POV, use of tense, flow, plotting etc. I’ve been running on instinct up until now (and it’s served me well enough, I might add) but now is the time to DO THE WORK. Thankfully, the fantastic Emma Darwin has a great list of books about the craft of writing fiction (and because of the aforesaid wonderful husband/editor-pal we already have some of these books – I’ve just not got around to reading them as yet. SILLY ME!)

So, at last, I can see where I am on my writing journey. I thought I was getting closer and closer to the top of my getting-better-at-writing mountain. In fact, I’m pretty much at the foothills and there’s a huge way to go. It’s pretty sobering, this realization, and somewhat upsetting, but you know what, it’s okay. I’m thankful that I’ve at least got to where I am now, having learned lots on the way, and when I get too blue, my wonderful family and very sweet children always cheer me up.

Coming back from my son’s gymnastics class the other day (he’s four and has recently started going to his own ‘big boy class’) my mind was full of “woe is me, my life is so grey at the moment” thoughts, but as I carried him to the car he looked about us and said, ‘Ah… look at the birds in the air, the beautiful trees and smell the fresh, good air. Ah… that’s the life.’ And I couldn’t help but think that here, in my arms, was a great philosopher. And I was humbled. 🙂

 

p.s. since writing this blog post I’ve also had an experienced poet critique some of my poems. Again, it’s been sobering… and it looks as though I’ve got to go back to the poetry drawing board too. And as I’ve just been through a painful tooth extraction (of a molar which had already had root canal work done on it) I’m going to take a little time out from this writing malarkey and just focus on the things that will help me to heal, both physically and spiritually!

 

Extracted molar by Marija Smits

Extracted molar by Marija Smits

 

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6 comments on “And I was humbled… (my writing epiphany)

  1. Helen says:

    Oh, so lovely, and so honest.
    I do think prose writing might be the hardest one to admit you need new skills for – after all, we all talk, and write emails, and read. The Stephen King stuff about having a great toolbox is a fantastic idea, I think – and it lets you feel as though you’re just being sensible about making sure you have the right technical equipment.
    Also second the recommendation for the glorious Dorothea Brand, and I learned so much from Prose’s “Reading like a writer” – in fact, I have it on kindle now, would you like my paper copy?

    But “I find it difficult to separate my personal worth from the words that I’ve crafted” – I really hear you there. We put ourselves into our writing, so any comment on it is a comment on us – I wish I was better at separating them out a bit, because feedback is *so* useful, but it’s hard to screw up the courage to ask for it and then take it well.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Thank you so much Helen for your kind words 🙂 I would love to borrow your ‘Reading like a writer’ – maybe you could lend it to me when we (hopefully) next meet up?

      When it comes to the separation of personal worth and created words I think it’s definitely something that many of us struggle with. But I’m certainly working on it… 🙂

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  2. Cathy Bryant says:

    Oh, and I meant to say – to Emma Darwin’s excellent list I’d add Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, which did more to get me into the mindset of a writer than any other book on writing that I’ve read. It’s also so beautifully written!

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  3. Cathy Bryant says:

    I do think that you’re being a bit hard on yourself. It’s so much easier to judge someone else’s work than to critique one’s own – you see what you were visualising when you wrote it, so it’s impossible to be objective. We also all write work of varying quality – only the good stuff gets published, so we’re left with the less good stuff. We only see the published work of other people, so theirs looks so much better and more professional than ours. I find it very difficult to appraise my own work. I also think that we ALL have loads to learn about poetry and fiction, whatever stage of the journey we’re at. I’ve seen some of your published poetry and it was excellent.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Many thanks for this Cathy – it’s given me much comfort 🙂 I’m sure you could do well making a living as an editor/mentor/critique giver because you communicate so clearly that ‘you’re on the writer’s side’. And I think that’s so important for all writers to hear!

      I absolutely agree with you about it being very difficult to critique one’s own work, and actually, what the critiques have helped me do is make me realize that objectivity about my own work is nigh on impossible because *I’m* the one with such a clear image in my head of what I wanted to communicate. And I can sometimes be rather like a naive child who thinks “But can’t you see that image too?” And then I get all sad and confused when others don’t understand what I’m trying to say!

      Anyway, thanks a lot. You’ve cheered me up!

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