Monday, November 5, 2012

My Worst Nightmare at a Writer's Retreat

This past weekend I attend my very first Writer's Retreat. I have never felt closer to feeling bi-polar in my life that while there.  I went from HIGH to LOW so many times during this retreat that I had to take some Dramamine for motion sickness!

When I arrived I was giddy with excitement  I was at a conference with REAL writers!Little me, who blogs and is trying to write a book in the wee hours of the morning and night, and breaking break (literally, we had really good wheat rolls at dinner) with real-live authors. (HIGH)

I went from giddy to the other side of the spectrum where terror lies- I signed up for my first critique group. That's where you stand in front of a group of strangers, naked, under a bright spotlight, and they use long sticks to point every flaw.  (Can you imagine?!)

Okay- I might be a little dramatic. I really wasn't naked. I wore a pair of blue jeans and a sweatshirt. But, that's what I FELT like. What actually happens is that you take five pages of your writing and read it to the group out loud while they mark up all your mistakes on their own copies of your work.

At that moment, however, I might have opted the naked route.  (No, no, I wouldn't.)

For me, writing is who I am. It's me. It's my best efforts. These are my words, my thoughts. My writing is shows the very person I am.  And to be that fully exposed,  magnified and dissected by other writers, well, it was truly terrifying.

I hadn't spoken to the other four women in my group before, other than an introduction before. They sat around the table smiling sweetly at me. I assumed that was part of the ritual - to lull the victim into a sense of peace before you rip them to shreds.

I smiled back, grateful I was the one seated closest to the door.

One writer bravely went first. Her story flowed with imagination and character. And yet, there were a few flaws, just a few places where she could improve.

The smiles stayed while they (including me) offered our thoughts about the positives and negatives.

It was the first time I had ever critiqued someone else's work. It felt....strange.

Then it was my turn.

I read the first five pages of my manuscript. If only the sweet ladies knew how terrified I was. But, I put on my brave face and read.

I didn't get past the first line when the PUBLISHED writer, Christine,  across from me whipped her pen out and started marking up my page.

I knew it. I knew I was a terrible writer. (LOW)

As I read, the group laughed out loud at the right place (HIGH) and gasped in the right place (HIGHER), but the pens kept flying (back to LOW)

I bravely finished reading and set my papers down, ready for the dream-killers to tell me what I have feared all these years: that I am a terrible writer. (REALLY LOW)

To my surprise, they offered words of praise and encouragement!   They thought I had some talent, and really enjoyed by writing. WHA? You mean, they think I am a good writer? (HIGH) They gave some suggestions to my writing, but frankly, by this point, I was so happy inside I didn't care. I exposed all (another google hit for that one) and was found to have talent.   (HIGH HIGH HIGH!)

The rest of the day was amazing. The classes, the women, the food. I was loving it! I even entered into a flash-fiction contest, where they give you a prompt and you have to write a short story of 300 words incorporating that prompt. Being such a talented writer, I was bound to win, right?

The next morning the winners were posted. I giddily skipped up the wall to read my name. The winner was the aforementioned Christine. Another women got second, then three other women tied for third.

I didn't even make the top five.  (LOW)

Yes, this was proof that the dream was over. I was actually a bad writer: untalented, unskilled and worst of all, embarrassingly over-confident. (LOW LOW)

By the time I got home I was exhausted! Doing emotional calisthenics for three days drained me, and I took a two-hour nap.

I woke up with a fresher, more realistic perspective of  my experience and an imperative realization:  The reason my emotional roller-coaster was so bumpy was because I let others set the track- others who had no idea I had allowed them to.

I was so insecure about my ability (or feared inability), that I looked to them to tell me if I had talent or not.  I looked to them to define my level of talent, and, in part, my worth as a writer.  I analyzed and interpreted their reactions and situations as either personal endorsements or indictments. One moment I was a good writer, and the next I wasn't, depending on what was happening around me.

I need to lay my own tracks- to allow myself to feel that I have some talent and ability, while recognizing - and even embracing - the need for growth.

That was probably the greatest lesson I learned from the retreat. Peace comes from knowing who you are, and what you can become. No other person can truly tell you that. They may have opinions, and some of them might even be right. But only God knows your true potential and worth.

And the beauty of that is that He doesn't keep it a secret. He is more than happy to share what He knows with me.

The sweetest moment I had at the retreat, as I look back, was during a group lecture. The speaker, Heather, quoted a man that spoke about women writer's in the latter day (these days) and that they would, in essence, be a power for good. When she read that, I felt a wave of warmth fill ripple from my head to my feet. I tingled all over.

I knew it was God's way of telling me that that quote would be true for me. Somehow, in some way, He is using me as a power for good.  I was where He wanted me to be, doing what He wanted to me do.

God, Himself, told me over the weekend that He loves me and loves what I am doing.

How can I want more than that?

So, now I move forward, and maintain a steady level of joy, confidence and peace in my writing. I won't compare myself to others- because no on is like me. I will continue seek to learn, and to improve, without the self-condemnation of failure- -because the key to happiness is growth.

And most importantly, I will continually remind myself (because I will probably forget again) that my worth cannot be measured by comments or comparison, but by the One who made me. He sees under all my layers of pride and insecurity. He sees every flaw, every weakness and every fault. But, He is also the only one who can see clearly all my strengths, my talents and my potential.

And He thinks I am a good writer.

So, I'm gonna take that and run with it.....