Somewhere in the tender, aching place where your skin isn’t tough enough, where your practical shields failed to protect the vulnerable creativity of your writing heart, bad reviews will always hurt. Disappointment crushes you small and all the introverted cells crowded into your body send you staring out your bedroom window for hours at a time, cringing for such an open display of all your failures. It won’t last forever, though I do suspect these days teach us lessons we may not recognize for months or years or decades.
We’re not ‘supposed’ to have these moments. Showing vulnerability is a liability in the shark-infested waters of marketing and promoting ourselves as writers. But of course it’s there, human skin is never tough until a callus earns its place after a lengthy period of pain and sensitivity. We’re not elephants or wee armored pangolins. It’s all right if it hurts.
This vulnerability is the same one which enables us to catch our readers by their heart strings and we do ourselves a disservice to ignore it. Acknowledge it. Protect it. Build shields of logic around it.
Hide pieces of your own creative strength in your places, tucked into books, in folders of past successes, in the ivory space between letters on a page. It will be safe there until the day comes you need to remember what it was like to believe in yourself again. Then retrieve it, use it, hold on to it. Just. Don’t. Give. Up. Nothing, even bad reviews, are written in stone. Or on stone, as it were. This is how we grow.
It’s November, and November is a magical month for writers. Its the month we all get together and stop talking about writing, complaining about writing, etc etc, and we write. The official goal of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is 50 000 words, or 1 667 written words per day. The point of the thing is taking up a challenge with a wealth of support around you, and that’s where the magic lies.
This year, I have a list of some twenty-five orphaned story ideas I gleaned from my notebooks. As many words as it takes, I vowed to my would-be stories, I will write you this November.
Now, every past NaNoWriMo I’ve participated in, I wrote by hand and tallied up my words on the corner of every page at the end of the day. I prefer to write this way, and I’d won NaNoWriMo enough times to feel confident doing it this way (if you’re curious how to verify, check the rules for ‘the Luddite clause’ for instructions). However, with this year’s goal I need to hit some serious wordage so I decided to type it on the laptop instead.
This is probably the moment in the story where the universe laughs maniacally and the heroine’s fate is sealed. Or it would be, if I was a heroine or a goddess and not a scruffy looking story hunter fresh from the woods.
I started off, ploughing through the first short story a random number generator chose from list. Everything was wonderful and that glorious creative high I always get from a November writing spree was settling into my brain, turbocharging my creativity when a storm with 100km (that’s at least a million mph) winds loomed on the weather forecast.
I backed up my project and I warned my friends to do the same. I can only hope they listened and no stories were lost.
Rain splattered the house, winds ripped at the roof. The power went out. Trees crashed down in the enchanted forest surrounding the house.
The howling and crashing woke both of the kids, frightened by the fury outside their windows. We pulled a mattress into the living room, far from the windows facing the wind, and snuggled into a groggy, sleepless night.
The storm faded by morning but the power didn’t come back on. My laptop battery was strong enough I didn’t worry that first day. I kept writing, twitching now and again for the lost ability to google facts in a pinch, but happy to have a distraction from the outage. The girls played with Lego and roasted hotdogs in our fireplace and thought it all a grand adventure.
I found a branch flung from a tree and lodged a solid 30 cm into the lawn by the force of the last night’s wind. It stuck up into the air, a failed assassin. I left it there and wrote it into a story.
The second day my eldest left for school and the baby didn’t mind the lack of electricity once the sun came up. The freezer was failing. The fridge didn’t smell right. Despite only turning on my laptop for writing into a word document, the battery ran low. I missed that encouraging little bar graph on the NaNoWriMo stats page like an addict misses their fix.
We don’t have a generator, so I started our pick-up and ran an extension cord from the outlet in the box into the house, you know, just like grandpa used to do before electricity. I tell ya, we live in The Future, folks. I charged the laptop while I charged my phone in the cigarette lighter. The fridge and freezer got their turn and we weren’t any worse for the power outage. It was almost fun.
The third day school was cancelled, and the sun never made it through the clouds properly. The house was dim, the kids were bored and stuck indoors while a cool rain fell through thick fog outside. It stopped being fun. Tempers flared. The last hotdog was roasted in a hail of whining.
I kept writing. It seemed as though I wrote so much more with the power out, after all, there wasn’t much else to do besides read and after the sun set that was out (I wanted to conserve the flashlights for when the kids were up). A laptop, candlelight, and NaNoWriMo – is there a better date a writer could take themself on? I think not.
In the end, I didn’t actually end up writing any more than I did with power, probably because there wasn’t any way to distract the girls and focus on my work.
We bathed in pond water I heated on the woodstove. That’s going in a story someday. It gave me the best hair day I’ve had since becoming a mom, which makes no sense, because that pond feeds our well which feeds our… shower. *Shrugs.*
Tuesday night, last night, the power came back on. After so long without the internet I admit I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all that social media out there, distracting me from my writing, but again, I didn’t write any more on days without power than I did with. If you’re looking for an anti-social media message, this isn’t it. I like the sense of community I get from my writer’s groups.
I didn’t, however, like missing Doctor Who. Best get back to writing so I can hit my word count and stream it guilt-free later.