The other day I moaned to my husband about the latest bump in my writing. He listened patiently, as he always does and said, "Your journey is like Frodo's in The Lord of the Rings." He went on, comparing the hobbit's grueling quest to my struggle, especially the last year when my writing seemed to take hit after hit. He drew a mental picture of the final stage of Frodo's trek: The battered hobbit climbing the mountain, nearing his goal with the evil forces tossing everything they've got at him.
When I look back at the last year, I see the start of two novels destroyed by respected feedback, a third novel felled by no confidence, and first pages used to demonstrate "what not to do." Along with the hits, I've lacked the support of critique partners. My picture book group is stellar but novels are my passion. I prefer a physical group and there isn't one near me. I miss having peers who are invested in making my book better and cheer it to the finish line. I had begun to feel my writing wasn't growing and my plots stank like swamp water.
My husband (Samwise that he is) pointed out that the feedback I'd received wasn't all bad and that I have a tendency to dismiss the praise. He's right. Not only do I forget the praise quickly, I revisit the criticism often. I starve the positive and feed the negative. I am the Destroyer of my manuscripts. I've taken on the roll of Frodo's arch-enemy, Sauron. I need to get my Frodo back.
It's encouraging to know I'm not alone. Other writers have faced this battle. On the blog, YA Muses, author Donna Cooner recently reposted her article called "How to be an Overnight Sensation in Twenty Years or Less." Twenty years! I've only been at this for four and a half. This calls for ammunition and back-up. To avoid skimming over praise, I'm printing out the most uplifting comments from last year in big font and pasting them within eyesight of my computer. Another stranded friend and I recently agreed to swap chapters online. We're both hoping to find a physical group but in the meantime, we're dedicated to helping each other meet our writing goals. I'm printing her positive comments to add to the others, building an army of words to battle destructive, negative thoughts.
I've restarted one of my novels and for the first time in almost a year, the story feels vital. In the next couple weeks, I'll face situations with the potential to damage my budding confidence: A workshop with a first page read and news of acceptance or rejection to a coveted writing program. I'm trying to learn to let go, accept what is and not let rejection or criticism be a judgment on my writing. Writers face this battle repeatedly, even after publication. We need a hobbit's resilience to win it.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor