May 15, 2019
Three Stages to Clarity - Tracy Krauss
Fear of what others might think kept me from sharing my writing for more than a decade. Then, when I did drum up the courage to submit my work, the pain of rejection almost caused me to quit.
My writerly self esteem was low, despite years of compulsive clacking on the keyboard, and it took tremendous courage to submit those first manuscripts. When I received the first responses in the mail (yes, it was that long ago...), my stomach fluttered with excitement and anticipation as my trembling hands ripped open the envelope.
That wasn't the only thing that ripped open. After just the first few words, the proverbial knife plunged into my gut and I literally felt ill. As more rejections came, the pain didn't subside. I like to joke that I could have papered a room with all the rejections I received, except for the fact that I tossed them instead. My loss... However, I did begin to recognize a pattern in my emotional responses that has since helped me navigate the trauma.
The first stage is despair. There is usually just raw pain - a sense of worthlessness, rejection, humiliation and hurt stemming from an attack on one's self esteem. It feels personal and the temptation to sing the childhood chorus, "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, going to the garden to eat worms..." is real.
Then the pendulum swings and you feel offended. Anger rises. This state of offence stems, I think, from pride - an over inflated sense of self righteousness and the inability to accept one's own shortcomings. "How dare they?" leads to, "What do they know anyway? I don't need to listen to them!"
Finally, once the emotional responses are allowed to run their course, clarity emerges. The "uh-huh" moment... The light bulb comes on... For lack of a better metaphor, a brilliant shaft of light breaks through the clouds. "Why didn't I think of that?" and "I can't believe I didn't see that..." make one anxious to go back in and make improvements. It has been my experience that I often do not see the obvious flaws in my own work. I am too close and too emotionally invested. To use another cliche, I can't see the forest for the trees. This is the true value of criticism and even rejection: the learning and growth that inevitably comes.
The real trick is to recognize that these three stages are normal and they will probably continue to happen, no matter how seasoned one becomes. However, we can choose how quickly we navigate through each stage. Don't let despair make you quit. Don't allow offence to gain a foothold. Know who you are as a writer and embrace it, but don't be such a snob as to think you know it all. As quickly as possible, absorb and apply any good advice you can glean. Find some clarity in each critique and then move on.
Tracy Krauss is a multi-published and award winning author and playwright living in Northern BC. She is currently serving as president of InScribe. tracykrauss.com