Writing: Steady, Slow Lessons in Humility

For me, writing has been a steady, slow lesson in humility. Rejection letters, blank pages that won’t fill with words. and pages that are full but with dead words—all these deflate me. Other times, I like my words. The message seems strong and the language clear and alive. And I send these words to other writers.

“What do you think?” I ask.

Often in the first minutes of their answers, I wish I hadn’t asked. Critiques sting. I should have seen that, I think. Or worse, I can’t understand what they mean . . . or how to fix it.

In just a few days, I’m heading for an intensive writing conference. At this conference, I won’t attend classes on how to write. This is a critiquing conference—a handful of writers with an editor who is known for giving the kind of ruthless feedback that might make you good if you can take it, or put you under if you can’t.

I’m taking a manuscript for critique. And I’m hoping I’ll remember some things I’ve learned about taking feedback while writing Yoder School. Here are my reminders for myself.

  • Swallow the word but. When I argue with a critiquer, I lose an opportunity to learn.
  • Wait out emotion. After the hurt subsides, my mind will begin to work again.
  • Forget about myself and concentrate on my work. This is humility—caring more about my readers than about my ego.
  • Keep a balance. Humility means seeing my work as it is—the strengths and the weaknesses. If I think too highly of my work, I won’t learn. But if I see only flaws, I give up.

And I hope I remember what Winston Churchill said:

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.

I’m sounding brave now, but . . . we’ll see.

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