Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Do you ever feel like this? I think no matter how comfortable we are with what we've written, there is always that moment before someone else reads it when we feel compelled to justify, to excuse, to protect ourselves from harm.

I had a conversation similar to this with my composition class yesterday. Writing is meant to be a personal process. It comes from somewhere within our deepest selves, so we feel a need to protect and defend - ourselves even more than our words. All writing is a risk. Writers willingly balance on the most fragile limbs of the tree, waiting to fall or be lifted to more solid footing. Scary stuff sometimes. Worth it? Absolutely.

Do you ever find yourself on auto-pilot, justifying or defending your work to protect the writer inside you?


Bethany Mattingly said...

Absolutely, I always get nervous when I send out something. Sometimes even my bog posts make me second guess myself.

Jonathon Arntson said...

For sure! I usually have to give a brief, "just read it and think about" disclaimer and walk away, before I'll approach the person again.

Jen said...

Absolutely! I am awful about saying something before rather than just allowing them to read it. I don't want anyone to dislike my work, I'm a worrier!

Stephanie Thornton said...

Strangely enough, I don't really do this before I give out the manuscript, but I do it a lot afterward. I think it's how I process critiques. A reader will point something out and I'll explain why I did it that way. Then my brain says, "But their way is better." Not all the time, but most of the time.

Valerie Geary said...

Boxing gloves up! Honestly, I only defend my work if I've given it to someone for a critique and they come back with suggestions (which are usually right by the way).

Otherwise... "it's your opinion" and as long as I'm satisfied, as long as I'm proud of it and can stand behind it... then nothing else matters. Because really, not everyone is going to like everything I write.

Falen said...

i'm pretty good about not justifying, unless i know for a fact it's not my best work. Then i might slip into the old "Here you go, it's not great" speech

Tere Kirkland said...

Yeah, I feel like this, especially the drunk part. I kid, I kid!

It's hard to do, but I think it's best to let your ego get the better of you when you're about to send out to betas. Sell it to yourself--be a bit more humble when "selling" it to your betas, of course--and you'll be able to stress less while you're waiting for feedback. And the most fun part is that the inflated ego only lasts until your get that first critique (hopefully).

After a certain point, the only way to improve your work is through feedback. I do usually give my betas some kind of idea of what problems I'm having to see if they have any particular suggestions. It's actually kind of freeing, seeing your story from someone else's eyes.

Thanks for the fun cartoon!

Mary Aalgaard said...

Yes! Especially when something is published and I don't really know who will be reading it. I have an article in a regional church newsletter, and I wonder what will be the reaction. Who am I to write about my faith? Well, silly me, just last night someone whom I haven't seen in months sent me a note of praise about the article and made an effort to reconnect. Silly, silly me. Of course, I need to write AND share it.

Kasie West said...

All the time. In fact, I usually say, hold on while I give you a few disclaimers and then you can proceed to read. :) It is definitely our way of protecting ourselves. Funny cartoon.

Valerie said...

That's a great comic! LOL

I used to be like that, but I try now to both only give my work to people that I trust will be thoughtful and I make sure that I feel it's in the best possible shape before I let anyone read it. That way I don't have any excuses and I'm a little less nervous about the response. It's still hard though!

Robyn Campbell said...

Protecting my work?? Heck yeah. I think "dang it. Can't they see the absolute brilliance here? *grin*

I do defend my work. I have to justify all the time I spent writing it, especially if it might be considered CRAPOLA. Funny cartoon. I am printing it and putting it next to my computer. I haven't been over to INKYGIRL in a while. Thanks Shannon, for the giggle at the cartoon and at myself.

Jennie Englund said...

Since I'm on both sides of the writing process, I try to both critique and receive graciously.


Last week I had to ask one of my students if she was open to suggestions. She was defensive about EVERYTHING!!!

Jennifer Shirk said...

But I don't.
I don't like it when people try to justify what they wrote to me. Or they try to defend a comment I made. You can't help how another person will feel about your writing because it's just so darn subjective. :)

Tamika: said...

I am stepping off this cliff next week in my first critique group meeting. Eek!

I'm sending my baby off Friday to be haggled at by other trusted writers. This is terrifying stuff!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Bethany - We all LOVE your blog posts, Bethany. How many posts do you see about milk?! :-)

Jonathon - LOL!

Jen - I think we're all worriers a bit.

Stephanie - I do it inwardly afterward. I have those Homer Simpson moments of, "Doh!"

Valerie - That is a very healthy attitude. Can I borrow some of it? :)

Falen - That's pretty normal! :-)

Tere - I totally agree with you. Thanks for such great comments, Tere. :)

mary - Silly you! LOL! I love your thinking.

Kasie - I love inkygirl cartoons!

Valerie - That's a smart way to go about it. :)

Robyn - Oh, Robyn, you totally crack me up! Thanks for making me smile.

Jennie - Yes! Students can be the worst when it comes to constructive criticism!

Jennifer - Subjective is exactly the right word.

Tamika - I'm sure your baby will be well-loved. Good luck, Tamika!

Carrie Harris said...

Snarf. Yeah, I still do that. I'm constantly sending things out with notes like: "This probably isn't very good, because it's Wednesday, and I never write anything good on Wednesdays unless it happens to be more than 90 degrees outside."

Okay, so I don't REALLY do that, but I'm tempted. Always tempted.

laurel said...

I struggle with wanting to explain everything I'm trying to accomplish instead of letting the manuscript speak for itself. Sort of a pre-emptive "let me show you how complex and brilliant this is" kind of thing.

Scott said...

I remember as a cub reporter having lots of anxiety every time I turned in a story. That anxiety went into overdrive when my editor would sit down with me and we'd go through it paragraph by paragraph.
Eventually, my skin got pretty thick.

That's not to say I still don't get nervous when I hand my fiction over to a crit partner, I do. But I try to take suggestions with a grain of salt. If a group of Betas make similar comments or all have problems with something in particular, then I know for sure I need to revise.

Bottom line, though, you need to put personal feelings aside as much as possible.

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

OMG that would happen all of the time. But Im actually getting over it. I think Ive been through enough critiques that Im not phased anymore, but it took a long time not to feel that way.

Elana Johnson said...

Oh, man, that's a big fat yes! All the time. I'm like, well, this is like a first draft, so yeah. And when I get crits back, I'm embarrassed that there were so many mistakes, but I know it's not perfect. And I know my betas don't think I'm lame or a hack.

And yet, the insecurity lingers. Le sigh. How does one rid themselves of it?

Bane of Anubis said...

Do you ever feel like this? -- Um, when don't I feel like this :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Carrie - I just love your snarfs and your fun sense of humor!

Laurel - Ugh! I'm guilty of that too.

Scott - Tough skin is good. I'm working on that. :)

Frankie - Why do I think long time is probably an example of understatement?

Elana - That is a brilliant question. When I return from my journey to ask the wise old turtle, I'll share with you his secret! :)

Bane - You and me both, Bane.

Angela said...

This is me, all the time!

I don't ever show my work to family or friends. I just can't muster up the courage!

Natalie Murphy said...

Yep, I do. I try really hard not to do it now, but sometimes it slips out.

Jen Chandler said...

Oh yeah. I really hate having people ask that inevitable question: so, what's the book about?

Why is that such a hard question to answer? I always stutter and stammer and then make an excuse saying I'm not finished yet and there's a lot of work to do yet...blah, blah, blah.

Glad to know I'm not alone!


Kristi said...

Ummm...all the time!

My friends and family are still amazed that I have this writing hobby and how they never knew about it...and I only told them because an independent publisher is publishing my book next month. Otherwise only my husband and son would know.

It's hard to share and I'm always terrified!!!

Great post!

Terresa said...

I've only dabbled in critique groups, but know there is wisdom in other people's points of view. Just not the point of losing your own story, yourself.

Great post.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Yes--too often. I'm trying hard now to walk in confidence and not qualify everything thing I say/do about writing.

Niki said...

The last assignment for the Writing for Children course I'm doing was to write a Chapter Book. I had never written anything over 500 words, so I was thrilled to make it to 1600 words and I thought my story was pretty good too. *oh dear* tutor's comments were not good, she disliked my story idea altogether so there was not one word of encouragement. I was devastated. I posted it on the Absolute Write forum and received the feedback I needed. They pointed out where I went wrong and the things I did right. Now I am determined to write a decent chapter book and prove my tutor wrong. :o)

Katie Ganshert said...

Not necessarily my writing, but my journey toward publication...especially to people who don't understand.

I wish, when people asked if I was published, I could just say, "Nope" and smile. But I always feel the need to explain WHY its such a looong process.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Angela - You're kidding! I thought you would be more confident than many of us. Of course, insecurity is pretty universal. :-)

Natalie - Same here.

Jen - This comment thread proves beyond doubt that you are not alone. :)

Kristi - Wow. You did do most of the journey secretly didn't you?!

Terresa - Thanks, Terresa. Maintaining our voice is definitely an important piece.

Kristen - Good attitude! :)

Niki - You go, girl! I hope it's a bestseller and you can send her an autographed copy! Ha ha.

Katie - Me, too. :-)

Jemi Fraser said...

I've deleted more than my fair share of comments to crit buddies. I'd write it, realize I was justifying, then delete & start again :)

Sally said...

We read our work aloud at our writing group... By my second sentence my internal voice is saying WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!?? THIS IS HORRIBLE
I catch myself trying to edit on the fly!

Thankfully- we are a very supportive group :)

Scobberlotcher said...

Yes, it's hard not to feel this way. Aren't we glad so many brilliant writers push past this feeling and let us/critics read their work?

Kelly said...

I'm going to have to say I was drunk when I wrote this at tomorrow night's critique group...just to see their reaction! :)
But yes, all of us have our doubts on the quality of our work. Most definitely.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Shannon, isn't it nice to know you are SO not alone? By the way, check out "Between Fact and Fiction," if you haven't yet. Cute video on there. Be well and confident!

DL Hammons said...

If there was an unsend button...I'd never post a word.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Yup. Though mostly I just say something like, "you can be honest. If you hate it, say so. I can take it."
Why do we do that to ourselves? lol
Karen’s Blog

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh yes, the dreaded moment when we let our babies out of the house without us :)

I have a love hate relationship with honest feedback. I want it. I need it. But I want to be told it is alllll good! LOL!

Lisa and Laura said...

Yes, yes, yes. Does it ever go away?

Kathy McIntosh said...

You bet. Especially this week when I'm giving my novel to a couple of beta readers I don't know very well. Eek. I'm taking duct tape with me.
I know I need the feedback but like Tabitha, I want everyone to love my words.

staceyjwarner said...

Yep, to me it is like saying "look, I know it's not great so be kind..."

much love

Jenn Johansson said...

Great comic! I feel this way all the time. I think we all do.

Marybeth Poppins said...

I did for my first MS. But I've gotten much better with my new nove. It's too easy to make excuse, but it's way more fun to try and correct them.

Pam Calvert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pam Calvert said...

Okay...edited last comment because I misspelled dysfunction!!! Here I go again:

LOL!! I do this more before I submit a critique: "Well, it's just my opinion. Other people may not agree...I'm sure others are more qualified...just take what you want, throw the, la, la, la, laaaaaaaaaaa!!!)

As for writing, I mostly feel the dysfunction AFTER I've sent it off to my agent and it doesn't matter how many times I've let it sit and have revised and have had crit partners go over it, I still feel that way.

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

I'm pretty sure Inky Girl must have been listening in on a conversation o mine. In fact, wow, those are my words, like...verbatim. EVERY TIME I show my work. *Sigh* It' hard to be a writer and to be insecure.

Thanks for the cartoon. It does actually help me feel better about it.

Solvang Sherrie said...

That would be me. All the time. Inky Girl always manages to illustrate so perfectly my turmoil!

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