Tuesday, June 3, 2014

AM I GOOD AT THIS?

When you ask kindergarteners to raise their hands if they are good at painting pictures, almost all would raise their hands. YES, I am!

Gather the same group ten years later, when they are now teens. A small number would still raise their hands. Fast forward ten more years, and these folks are now in their mid-twenties. In most cases none would raise their hands.

Any objective viewer would say that on the whole, these individuals' painting skills have improved. The disparity is subjective. The years have added the accumulated weight of criticism and self-consciousness.
When a writer on a virtual chat board asked if there is a point where you know you are a good writer, most responded that there isn't. Not really. And not one point.
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My first rejection was a personal rejection, and it was a very kind one. I was not aware of the mounds of slush-subs that never got a personal response. It was a rejection, and that was not a good thing.
But others spoke of years of form rejections, and I considered that maybe I could possibly be somewhere near the periphery of the edge of the ball park.
I’m forever grateful to that editor who wrote a long and very encouraging rejection. That kept me going through almost a year of forms, which followed.

When I got the first acceptance, I was told it was one in three hundred. The small publisher had a “call for manuscripts” in a writers’ magazine, and mine got to the top of that heap somehow. Perhaps, just-possibly-maybe, I was where I belonged.

DD just went through the arduous process of auditions to top music conservatories. She was accepted everywhere she auditioned and will be making music at Juilliard come next fall. A pianist friend, who had just as much parental support and validation, was turned down by all but one conservatory, where he got off the wait-list and enrolled. DD seems less confidant in her abilities that her friend is in his.

My point? Outside validation is only one piece of the puzzle.

*But it is a vital piece.*


At some point we need others’ validation. Hopefully, it would not come posthumously. (Think of John Kennedy Tool who could not get his novel published, but when it was, after he had taken his own life in desperation, the novel won a Pulitzer prize.) It may come from an editor's letter, one who isn't your cousin’s best friend. It may come with or without $$. It may come in drips and drops. But some validation from someone who does not owe you anything is a needed.
And when it comes, will you know then?
Not necessarily. It’s one piece of a puzzle. But, speaking for myself, it is an essential piece.

9 comments:

  1. Mirka, congratulations to your daughter!!! You must be so proud. And I agree about needing a little bit of the outside validation -- it really ties into the positive feedback loop. I too am thankful for those rejection slips with encouraging notes scribbled on them. And how sweet is that first acceptance!

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  2. Getting validation is a great thing but it should help us feel like validating ourselves too. It's hard for others to validate you if you can't validate yourself.

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    1. Absolutely, Kelly. Remind me to remind you to pat yourself on the back!

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  3. I think validation helps but it isn't everything. I think every writer goes in cycles where they think their stuff is terrible and as they edit and polish they start to fall in love with what they have even if it's only for a brief time before someone else pokes holes in it. But i think it's in the moments when you are learning and seeing your writing transform that you can know you really are good enough.

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  4. It's interesting that you got the personal and then the forms. That was my experience too. I remember reading a piece in SCBWI Bulliten about a writer who gave up writing after she got a personal rejection from a major publisher--not knowing at the time that that was very encouraging. I've tried to keep that in mind for myself as well.
    I still remember the moment when there was no longer a huge gap between what I wanted my writing to be and what it was.
    Although I still have a lot to learn, that was a turning point for me.

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  5. Wow, congratulations to your daughter! BTW, I've noticed among students that often the most confident are neither as talented nor as skilled as they think. The real writers have doubts and expect and want constructive criticism. And yes, outside validation has got to come at some point for us to keep going. You can validate yourself all you like, and that's needed, but at some point it's got to have value for somebody else who does not have to love it. If it doesn't, it has no value beyond what it means to you. And at that point even the value you see in it will probably diminish, because you were never able to communicate by it.

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  6. Wow...the kindergarten analogy is so true. You have so much confidence in painting as a child and over time, that confidence goes away. With writing, it's scary when you're young because English teachers are judging you. As you get older, you either get scared off altogether or are drawn to it. Outside validation is very important, but if we can somehow find that validation internally, we can survive so much of that rejection.

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  7. It's true. We get more self conscious and less self confidence as we grow. Congratulations to your daughter on that amazing accomplishment!

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