When I was thirteen I believed I could write. I didn’t recognize potential in myself or foresee earned abilities. No, I thought my work was perfect. Just. the. way. it. was. My work consisted of glorious, polished, beautiful sentences that by no means required editing. Nope, I thought, my work’s masterful and I must show the world. I used to print out my poems and put them in binders with plastic cover sheets. I’d read them proudly to whoever would listen. When I look back, I can’t help but laugh and, at the same time, feel a little jealous of young Emma’s naivety.
While my previous confidence is something of a laughable matter, I do believe the process was important, however unrealistic it may have been. It was helpful in that I believe a certain amount of confidence is needed to truly develop one’s skills. These years of blind certainty encouraged me to explore my writing with little to no fear of failure, a notion that, as an adult, scares the living daylights out of me. If the notion of failure had plagued me from the beginning, I may have shut down before I’d even gotten started. Luckily that didn’t happen and now, after years of writing, the thought of “failure” stimulates me to work harder. I know that with enough dedication I’ll get to my desired destination.
This being said, if someone dared criticize thirteen-year-old Emma’s work, they’d likely have been met with a string of defensive remarks.
Clearly…. I’d say, you don’t understand…. IT WAS A METAPHOR!!!
So while I can look back and cheer myself on (you go girl!) I also recognize that my writing was somewhat stunted by an inability to accept criticism. It is my personal belief that learning to accept criticism and to “kill your darlings” A.K.A. edit, are two of the most valuable lessons in writing. Nowadays I welcome criticism with open arms. This doesn’t mean I agree with all of it or implement every change suggested to me, but I am open to ideas and to feedback.
But I didn’t just wake up one day and think YES, I’m ready for criticism! While most of the people in my life know that I’m not much of an “academic type” and never particularly wanted to attend university, I have to admit that one of the most valuable lessons I learned over the past four years was to listen. Workshopping taught me to listen and to become more critical of my own work. It taught me that there are a ton of amazing writers out there, many of whom are just as dedicated and eager as myself. How could I continue to defend my work in such a setting? What made me any more special than any of the other young, emerging writers with whom I studied? Not much. I was (and still am) just a little fish swimming in a vast lake.
My main goal right now is to grow as a writer. This requires both awareness and sacrifice on my part. Apart from allocating as much time as possible to working, I am constantly trying to centre my ways of thinking. I still experience those “clearly you don’t understand” reactions but it’s a gut reaction. It’s not a reaction I vocalize and it’s one that I quickly dismember. This way my ego can’t go running off without a rational, analytical companion.
I’d like to conclude by shifting focus to the delicate relationship between confidence and criticism. I believe these two complement one another. Sure, too much confidence can get in the way of one’s ability to accept criticism and too much criticism can certainly squash a person’s confidence but, in many scenarios, learning to balance confidence and criticism can do wonders for a person’s writing. This said, there’s a difference between confidence and conceit. The first of which I have developed over time. The latter I may have known in the past but am certainly distanced from now.
Finally, I offer a reminder that criticism is contributive and not detractive. It’s aim is not to destruct. Meanwhile, there is no shifting scale that delineates a clear relationship between criticism and confidence. A certain amount of criticism should not result in lowered confidence though it may result in more work than desired (hello caffeine and late night work sessions!) So with this I bid you farewell. Please feel free to comment with stories or ideas pertaining to criticism or writerly confidence!