Thick Skin Relapse. Enter, Self-Doubt (Round 2)

I’ve posted before about my struggles with lack of confidence in my writing ability, as well as my desire to grow a thick skin so that criticisms don’t hit me so hard.  My logical mind knows that ‘great’ writing is entirely subjective – one person may love it and another wouldn’t even use it to line their bird cage.  But I still retain this illogical desire for everyone to like my writing.  If that isn’t a recipe for disappointment, I don’t know what is 🙂

The last two weeks have filled me with doubt (again).  I failed on part 10 of Kharma’s Way, and it wasn’t received well by my readers.  Of course I was disappointed, but the feedback did help me identify weaknesses.  Then, in my last manuscript writing class, I got critiques back from the instructor and one person in my peer group on the first half of my story.  Not good.  There wasn’t much about it that they did like.  The comments on the second half were better, but still  not stellar.

After my manuscript writing class last week, I cried.  For days, every time I thought about it, I cried.  This marked the unmistakable fact that my thick-skin development had suffered a major setback.  I think this hit me so hard because over the last few weeks, I had been working on this story for a contest.  I went through five rounds of edits and solicited feedback from a couple friends.  I felt good.  I felt like I had submitted something that wouldn’t be an embarrassment –and a wasted entry fee.

Before I left class, something else happened that has bothered me all week.  In my rush to get out of there before I cried, I was stopped by a man from my last short story review group.  He wanted to email me his story to get my feedback because he liked the input I gave him on the first one.

I’m afraid my response was less-than-enthusiastic because, at that moment, I felt like a failure.  I didn’t think his work was worthy of my opinion.  I mean, how could I justify giving my opinion when I can’t even write a decent story?  I thought my story was good – and I was wrong.  I figured I wouldn’t know good writing if it pinched me on the cheek.  (He may have taken my hesitation as not wanting to read his story, which is not the case.  I’ll have to clear that up next time we meet).

These recent events have filled me with doubt.  I doubt my writing talent/ability.  I doubt my eye for good stories and writing technique.  I doubt whether I can overcome my emotional attachment to my writing – the only way a thick skin can grow.  I fear that doubt will paralyze me.  (To fight off the paralysis, I have continued to write <possibly bad> stories.  I can’t help myself.)

The reason I’m sharing my mini-crisis is so if anyone else is going through this, they will know they’re not alone.  And I’d like to think that I’m not the only one who battles self-doubt on occasion, because the alternative is acknowledging that I’m mentally unstable…I can’t handle that right now 🙂

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22 thoughts on “Thick Skin Relapse. Enter, Self-Doubt (Round 2)

  1. nrhatch November 8, 2010 / 6:15 AM

    Janna . . . like many in society, you’ve been socialized to care more about what others think of your “achievements,” than what you think of your “efforts.”

    There are many, many posts on SLTW that might help you to shift your perspective so you don’t end up in a puddle of tears every time a reader looks askance at your words.

    You can search “doubt,” “writer,” “writing,” and see where the search leads.

    In the meantime, keep coming back to the keyboard to write!

    The way will teach you the way. Allow the path to unfold.

    • jannatwrites November 8, 2010 / 7:47 AM

      You may be right. In my defense, a negative comment or two doesn’t send me over the edge; it just kind of builds up when it seems to be the consensus. If even one person enjoys it, then I can comfortably believe that it was just a matter of opinion. (To dig deeper into my mind, I think this is my broad application of what I heard growing up: if you think everyone else has a problem (i.e., is a jerk, idiot, etc) then the problem is most likely you.”)

      At any rate, I do appreciate your comments and tips…and I will be doing some searching and reading this week 🙂 I will also continue to write and let the path unfold. All great suggestions!

    • nrhatch November 8, 2010 / 7:57 AM

      But look at what you said in this post: “I failed on part 10 of Kharma’s Way . . . ” Failed is a pretty harsh way to describe the comments you recieved.

      No one said that your writing sucked. Just that there were a few “loose ends” that needed tidying up.

      And . . . what about parts 1-9? When reader after reader told you how much they were enjoying the story. Doesn’t that give you a 90% approval rating?

      Here’s the thing . . . I should NOT have to be the one pointing these things out to you. You should be pointing them out to yourself.

      Then, these setbacks become mere “pebbles” in the path, easily kicked to the side of the path, while you proceed along the way.

      • jannatwrites November 8, 2010 / 4:22 PM

        To me, I did fail on Part 10. Not on the whole story – just that part because I didn’t convey the situation very well and multiple views confirm that. I still like the story and don’t think of it as a failure.

        I agree that no one said my writing sucked, but sometimes that’s how I think…when there is not a single positive comment. Your words are certainly food for thought as I work to improve my thought processes and get myself to the point where these things become “pebbles in the path.” Thanks 🙂

  2. amanda November 8, 2010 / 7:28 AM

    Ah, yes…the monster of self-doubt! EVERY writer has been through this — I guarantee it. The question is whether you felt good about what you wrote BEFORE hearing the opinions of others. Find that answer, and then stick with that. Use or ignore the suggestions giving to help improve your pieces. Writing is a lot about going with your gut. Trust yourself.

    Best of luck, and chin up…you are talented!

    • jannatwrites November 8, 2010 / 4:07 PM

      Yes, I did feel good about the story. I guess that’s why I took it so hard. After a few days I went back and reviewed the input. Some of it I still didn’t agree with, but I did change a few things. I’ll take a look at them in a few more days and see what I think then.

      Thanks for your confirmation that the self-doubt monster doesn’t just stalk me 🙂

      P.S. Some days have passed since I scheduled this post, and I have to say that time is great healer. It doesn’t feel nearly as devastating now as it did then. Of course, some other events may have helped put it in perspective, too!

  3. Aligaeta November 8, 2010 / 9:01 AM

    After reading your heartfelt account, I wish to offer you encouragement.

    You did the hard part: you wrote the manuscript from beginning to end. Be proud of your accomplishment!

    As for taking it apart and strengthening it, I will say this… In one of my many English courses I read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”. It is very tight, very descriptive and very intense. Many if not all of the chapters can stand on their own.

    Several of the chapters were separately published before O’Brien put them together to become the book.

    I don’t know, but maybe, something I said here can be helpful and perhaps infuse hope. Best Wishes!

    • jannatwrites November 8, 2010 / 4:24 PM

      Thanks for your kind words. I will check out the book you referenced – it sounds interesting.

      I’m glad you stopped by and I appreciate your comments 🙂

  4. Barb November 8, 2010 / 11:20 PM

    I’ve read part 10 and 11 together while catching up and didn’t notice anything so off-putting… actually I think you’re doing just fine! 😉
    Please remember you can’t please everyone and if you keep twitching and rewriting to please every reader
    1) you’ll never really finish
    2) you’ll lose track of your vision.
    You might write a better story, but it won’t be the one you envisioned when you started.
    If 10 people comment on the same issue, it’s an issue, if not, it’s just that reader perception – and YOUR story! Stick to it! 😀
    Happy writing
    Barb

    • jannatwrites November 9, 2010 / 8:12 PM

      Thanks for your comments Barb. You know, after a week of distance from all of it, I’m okay with everything now. There’s other stuff going on (which I can’t write about right now) that may have added unrelated stress, which contributed to my mini- meltdown.

      I love what you said about taking in opinions – specifically “You might write a better story, but it won’t be the one you envisioned when you started.” I’ve never really thought about it being okay to have a flawed story – and it being okay because it’s how I thought it should be. I see freedom in those words. Thank you 🙂

  5. Tim Weaver November 9, 2010 / 3:36 PM

    Janna

    Sorry to hear about your troubles. As for the request for assistance in the short-story course, I think it’s because he’s not liking what I/we’re telling him. No idea what his last story was, nor of your group’s critiques of his work, but he does continually rave about the assistance you gave him last time. So, you got that going for you. 🙂

    • jannatwrites November 9, 2010 / 8:17 PM

      I’m back on my feet again. I’ve had other stuff to occupy my mind so I’m not obsessing over the critiques. In fact, at the moment, I don’t care at all 🙂

      As for the assistance request, I don’t mind helping….I just doubt my abilities. But hey, you don’t have to have formal training to give an opinion, right?

  6. Tim Weaver November 9, 2010 / 3:43 PM

    Addendum: I read part 10 (no, haven’t read the read), and the reader comments. I would hardly qualify that as “not well received by readers” unless you received a lot of comments via email. I didn’t see them as bad at all…only that a couple small parts were tough to follow.

    • jannatwrites November 9, 2010 / 8:22 PM

      I think this is another case of the end product not meeting my expectations, so I view it as a failure. I’ve always set high (sometimes unrealistic) goals for myself and have been my harshest critic. (In school, if I earned an ‘A-‘, I was disappointed because it wasn’t an ‘A+.’) I need to lighten up. If I can survive myself, I might be okay 🙂

      By the way, thanks for stopping by and sharing your views. Take care!

  7. jpcabit November 9, 2010 / 10:44 PM

    Some ENCOURAGEMENT coming from my house… the HOUSE of HAPPY!

    Smile! It’s not over unless you quit! I look at some of my old writing, with its skin-deep characters, questionable plot devices, etc. But that was years and years ago…Imagine if I had given up then? Never forget, but don’t look back.

    So don’t give up. Why should you be so hard on yourself? It’s not the end! Don’t be a downer!

    While I didn’t read Kharma’s Way, I’ve seen some of your writing, and I liked it. You have a blog, Janna! That’s gotta count for something.

    Persevere!

    You can do it!

    Warmest Regards,
    The Proprietor of the House of Happy 😉

    • jannatwrites November 10, 2010 / 8:28 PM

      Thanks for the “happy encouragement”. Last week is just a distant memory now 🙂 I’m still writing stories I like, even if no one else does!

      I didn’t mean to be a ‘downer,’ but I had to do this post because this blog is about my writing world. Although I’d rather portray myself as cool and confident and always together, I felt like that would be a lie. Once in a while, things get to me and I toss it out here and move on. Now I’m to the moving on part!

      I do appreciate your kind words 🙂

  8. Lavender Blue November 9, 2010 / 10:49 PM

    If I may bore you with a tale. A few years ago the Brava romance publishing house was running a novella contest. I was all over THAT, let me tell you. Shortish but not too short, steamy and sexy. I put everything I had in it. And then after the first round of elimination out I went. Enter angel food cake and vodka. Of course, I started with heaving crying and red wine. I sat in my car smoking and talking to my best friend, in my car, of course, so I didn’t wake the house with my middle of the night meltdown. This sucks. It sucks for all of us. And we survive. And for what it’s worth, I very much like your writing, and even if you go on a vodka and angel food cake bender, I’ll still very much like your writing. Good luck sister. XOXO

    • jannatwrites November 10, 2010 / 8:39 PM

      Awww, I’m sending you an e-hug…that is such a painful story of anticipation and ultimately, the letdown. I can assure you, I haven’t had to try the red wine with vodka and angel food cake chaser (yet)…but I will keep that in mind, as I’m starting to submit short stories for contests 🙂

      I do thank you for sharing your story, which, by the way, did not bore me at all. Instead, it gets me out of my self-absorbed state and makes me realize that I’m not the only one facing disappointments in the writing journey. We do survive (like Gloria Gaynor did). Great. Now I’ve got that song in my head.

      I’m so glad you stopped by and reading that you liked my writing made me smile – thanks a million 🙂

  9. Tim Weaver November 10, 2010 / 10:05 AM

    I guess I’m not as much of a writer as I thought I might be, as I write because I like the stories I write, not because of any ambition at publication. If it happens, cool. If not, then I take pleasure in knowing that I can write more than dry research papers, and all my MaD EngLIsh SkilLZ honed over the years actually can be used for Good instead of Evil. 🙂

    Vodka and Angel Food cake? I just threw up a little right now….

    🙂

    • jannatwrites November 10, 2010 / 8:43 PM

      Well, Tim, I think you’ve just got the right frame of mind. I write stories I like, but sometimes I get too stuck on my ultimate dream of being published one day. That’s where I drive myself nuts.

      If that other story I read is any indication, then you can certainly say that you can write something other than research papers. (Fiction = good; Research = evil?)

      Don’t knock the vodka and angel food cake until you try it 🙂

      • Tim Weaver November 10, 2010 / 11:27 PM

        I was thinking more that “evil” = working for corporations who are being all corporationy and making money on the backs of Oompa Loompas.

        If you liked my other story, I think you’d like the new one, too. More of a cops/robbers/crime thing goin’ on…with a twist, of course.

        I just can’t get over the Vodka and Angel Food cake. Now, a nice Rum or Bourbon cake…we can talk….

        • jannatwrites November 11, 2010 / 3:10 PM

          Ah, now I get the good/evil reference. I’m a little slow.

          I like cops/robbers…and I really like twists (or twisted?) – sounds good!

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