Having Your Writing Criticized

Carol worrying about her critics now

My childhood dream was to be a writer; a serious, Nobel Prize-winning, slap-society-in-the-face author. I used to write poems when I was very young, but I would rip them up after writing them, because I didn’t want my parents to see them. The fear of my father and mother ridiculing me because of my dream was unbearable. I couldn’t not write, though. So I did, then I would destroy the evidences. I learned how to make my dream invisible.

I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 20 (very early for a Brazilian), at which point I could finally keep my writings. At that time I used to write poems and very short stories that resembled poems. There might be a name for this type of writing. Or maybe I had created a new category in literature and that was my chance at a Nobel Prize. I’ll never know. I used to write with no specific goal, just letting the writing go wherever it wanted to go. One day, I started writing something that looked like a children’s story. I invested in it and wrote a little book. I was 22.

I was happy with my accomplishment, so I showed it to a couple of university friends — a group of people who I trusted enough to share my dream of being a writer. They loved it! And I had all the reasons to trust them — half of them were Literature students and the other half were studying Philosophy with me. We were all slap-society-in-the-face young intellectuals. It turned out that one of my friends personally knew one of the biggest children’s author in the country and found a way to introduce me to her. I gave her my manuscript and was excited to hear her feedback. She would love it, like my friends did! I would publish it, she would write a foreword and I would sell tons of books and finally stop working at the mall! I would be a writer, like I had always wanted! Thank you, Universe!

The only problem was that she hated it. Hated it. She wasn’t just apathetic, she didn’t give me a honey-you-need-to-work-a-little-harder. No, she absolutely hated it. She destroyed me. She crushed every single one of my feelings. She even said she was offended to have been given that manuscript.

It was the first time I had seriously admitted to the world that I wanted to be a writer; it was the first time an adult had read what I wrote. I answered her email thanking her for taking the time to read my manuscript, then I quit writing.

Years after that, a friend told me that a group of people had started doing a thing called “Stand-up Comedy” in São Paulo. He told me the comedians themselves wrote their material. I was amazed by that. Comedy in Brazil often meant big characters with big costumes (usually a man stereotypically dressed as a woman) repeating old gross bits. I hated comedy. But this thing, stand-up comedy, got me curious. So I looked it up it and it blew my mind: maybe I could write jokes!

I read every book on the subject, but they were all in English. The first book took me 3 months to finish, because my English was at the 101 level at the time. But I wrote a joke, another one, a couple of them… I was writing again! The critic, the traumatized flower, the censor inside me was quiet when I wrote comedy. It didn’t care for failing in comedy. Well, there’s no Nobel Prize for comedy. Stand-up comedy kept me going doing what I loved.

I saved the children’s author email until last year, because every year I’d read it again to try to understand it. I thought that maybe I was being too sensitive, or maybe there was something in there that could help me fix my writing mistakes. Every time I reread that email I would breathe deeply and try to put my mind in a place free of judgment, a place where I could see clearly what those words meant. And every time I read it, my spine froze. Because that email was like a physical proof that I was talentless.

Last year was different. Maybe because it had been a long time, maybe because I was more mature then, or maybe because the gods thought I was ready to see it: what I saw was someone trying to get reverence by crushing others. There was actually nothing to be learned there, just the same old “I’m where you want to be, so I’ll throw all my shit at you and you still have to look up to me” crap.

I saw that clearly, but I second guessed myself. If that feedback didn’t say anything about my writing, why did I waste so much time suffering from it? “Maybe I should read my little children’s book again and see if it really deserved such a knock off”, I thought. Fortunately, I had saved the little book, despite not having had the courage to read it again for more than 10 years. I read it and… it’s a good story. It.Is.A.Good.Story! In a second, it came to me: I realized that she didn’t want to understand the story, even less my context, and that email was an expression of her own agenda instead of a true literary analysis. And because of other people’s agenda I had quit writing, the only thing I was sure I wanted to do in my life since I was seven.

So kids, this is the moral of the story for today: respect everyone but also be able to let them go fuck themselves.

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