This morning I had the good fortune to come across this post from Dave at According to Dave. He shares a post from a NaNoWriMo forum. You can read the original post at http://nanowrimo.org/en/forums/reaching-50-000/threads/114149, or go to Dave’s blog for the full text. In short, the post is about a fear that many writers have: the fear of being thought ridiculous. Not unskilled, not inexperienced, but ridiculous as in your writing can be “laughed at, scorned, lampooned.”
I’m currently participating in Camp NaNoWriMo and am going through the usual “this novel is s**t” roadblock. And I recognize the fear that the poster writes about, the fear that makes me question every page, every paragraph, every word I type. I know I’ve written about this in other posts of mine and in comments about writing workshops and the like, but apparently it’s not a dead subject for me.
In a college-level workshop that I took about 20 years ago, one of my stories–the ending, specifically–was laughed at, mocked. The mocking was led by the professor and I assume since he was known for getting young writers hooked up with agents and publishers, some students took his cue to impress him. At least one student saw the devastation and humiliation writ large on my face and tried to comfort me later. I’ll admit the ending was melodramatic and the story had a lot of problems overall. But I’m not convinced it was necessary to humiliate me.
Ironically, my final story for that semester was one that the professor crowed about, to the point of introducing me to someone important (an agent, maybe? a publisher?) at a writing conference. If he was offering me an opportunity at that point, I missed it because I couldn’t reconcile his willingness to humiliate with his willingness to praise one and the same writer. I remember standing in the room, between him and this important person, and being dumbstruck because I hadn’t anticipated his praise. I had no 3-minute elevator pitch. I had nothing. I just smiled at him. I might have said thank you. They walked away. The important person was obviously unimpressed.
Although the wound still aches and I still fight the fear of being found unworthy, of being found a figure for ridicule, I also now feel unimpressed by the professor and his connections. I realize that some of the dynamic in that workshop, in that whole writing program, was based largely on his influence, his power to anoint the next “golden boy” or “golden girl” writer. It wasn’t to guide us into becoming better writers, but for him to find the diamonds in the rough and nurture them. Like many in academia, professors seek out those students who make them look good.
Fortunately this professor was not my only access to guidance. And I did learn a lot in his workshop, technically speaking. It’s a sorry state to be past my mid-fifties and still coming to a near froth over that experience. But it’s time to move on, to write my “ridiculous” novel, if that is what it is, to take a cue from a young woman who, although still afraid, “cannot shut [her] mouth from shouting the music that has swelled in [her] lungs.”