Being a writer is so often a strange thing. On the one hand, it is a very solitary profession. Unless you are collaborating with someone expressly to write a project, the ultimate act of writing is to be alone with your thoughts and the voices in your head.
It doesn’t stay that way, or shouldn’t. You need to have those words, your vision, filtered through the eyes of others to make sure that the vision is true, that it is not somehow warped and out of shape like the reflection in a fun house mirror. Having someone come after you to check for structure and clarity and DUDE, DID THAT ACTUALLY MAKE SENSE is an invaluable step (or many steps) in the process.
If you are lucky, as I have been so SO lucky, you manage to find a critique partner or editor (in my case, I have both in the same fabulous person) who has the patience to wade through all of your newbie mistakes and crap drafts to find the good parts that will keep you from giving up when the draft comes back flayed alive and bleeding pink (she IS the Pink Hammer, after all). And a smart writer takes that gift and learns from it. Her skin grows thicker, and she stretches boundaries and improves (hopefully), to the point that she internalizes that editorial voice, stops making all the same mistakes over again (or at least catches them through the internal voice and fixes them before sending off to get the real thing). Until eventually, one fine day, a draft comes back with barely a page of pink, and you think, No, there must be some mistake. Where’s the rest of it? And she says, “No really, it was good.” And you’re simultaneously pleased and convinced it was a total fluke.
It’s a glorious thing, this kind of partnership. It makes you feel less alone, like someone really, truly gets you (which is a gift beyond measure). But the goal is, eventually, to become less dependent. To truly internalize the lessons and eventually become master of your craft yourself so that you don’t need those repeated touchstones (though you should always, ALWAYS get at least a second set of eyes on your work). The writer become true writer, not just the toddler coming back to hug Mom’s knees before going back out to explore the wide worlds of imagination.
That, my friends, is scary. As everything about becoming a grown up is sometimes scary. Quite apart from the worry that you didn’t learn your lessons well enough, there is, I think, a reluctance to go back to that state of being alone. Because once you’ve known the glorious synergy and flow of brainstorming with someone who knows your worlds almost as well as you, who loves them almost as much as you, the idea of retreating into the (relative) silence of your own head again isn’t particularly appealing. And it can be downright intimidating.
I feel like summer always makes me think about these things, judging where I am in the process of this whole apprentice–>journeyman–>master sequence because my touchstones disappear. That whole kids being out of school and having a life that does not center around me (and it shouldn’t) or taking vacations and unplugging (what IS this thing you call “vacation”?). It’s lonely and scary and triggers pretty much every single one of my self-doubts–of which writers have an inventive plethora. OMG. They haven’t answered my email in a WEEK. NOBODY LOVES ME ANYMORE.
Do yourself a favor, grab a big ass bar of dairy free chocolate and get over yourself.
For me, this is all just one more reason to hate summer (the others being the heat, mosquitoes the size of crop dusters, and POLLEN). But it’s forced me out of my comfort zone. I’ve reached out to some new folks to get feedback (that was fabulous) prior to my recent release. I’ve gotten my butt out of my chair (I know, shocking) to do something other than write with some of my free time (going back to finish my black belt in taekwondo). I’ve deepened friendships with some other writers (always a great thing) and had some magnificent mutual flails over great reads.
I survived. I missed them like hell, but I survived. The world didn’t end. My creativity and inspiration didn’t stop. I still made words. Lots of them. And I was forced to make some decisions without that oft relied upon feedback–decisions that reinforced the intuition of my gut. And that’s a different kind of gift. As far as I’m concerned, I’m one step closer to being master of my own fate, which has really been my goal all along.
Hooray for self sufficiency.