My least favorite part about being a creative writing major in college was the feedback elements of the workshops. I hated saying negative things about my classmate's short stories, and I HATED the part where I had to sit in my seat and try not to squirm as the entire class took my manuscript apart into its nuts and bolts and pointed out which nuts and bolts sucked. Granted I always realized the importance of the workshops. As a would be writer, they were invaluable. I learned more in those four workshops than I ever did in any English class in elementary or high school. But they were invaluable for precisely the reason I hated. They were not about building yourself up or feeling all warm and fuzzy over the story you spent weeks writing. They were about the opposite of that. They were about stripping you of any kind of confidence or ego, slapping you around a little, and leaving you in the germinal state of becoming a real writer- raw, shattered and more than anything, hurt. You have to get to that place in order to get good. I know that. And I knew that then. But it never made it any easier. As someone who had always had the ability to at least strength together a competent sentence, I spent most of my early life being told how good I was at writing by my parents, teachers, etc. (I'm sorry if that sounds insufferable, I probably was incredibly insufferable as a teenager). So if I hadn't had four years of being told all of the mistakes I made (never again will I write the letters "ing"after a verb without a mental check if there's any other way to write it), I would be an insufferable, arrogant, and frankly, very bad, writer today.
I still write fiction, and I know it suffers because of the lack of a forum for it to get abused. Sure rejection letters are a form (and a very tortuous one at that) of abuse, but they don't pick something apart with quite the brutal efficiency of a college writing workshop. But my other writing format, as a freelance journalist for Richmond.com, is, as I've recently discovered, presented in a forum where people can take the opportunity to pick my words apart.
And you know what, all of those workshops and post-workshops sob sessions, did not in any way thicken my skin. My skin is still the equivalent of tissue paper. And I'm beginning to think that it's impossible to thicken skin. Maybe anyone who says otherwise is just a really good liar. I don't know if I'll ever get used to the immediate little kid hurt that washes over me when I read a not nice thing about my writing. And that's so obnoxious and I sort of want to punch myself in the face when I think about it, because I'm 25 years old. I should be able to take it like a woman and stop whining.
But it stings every time. And because I am an online journalist there's almost always feedback. And the worst part is I crave the feedback. If there are no comments on an article I wrote I take that as a little slap in the face as well (wow aren't writers insecure?) If there are nice comments I eat it up, but the good feelings from those never last as long as the defensiveness and hurt of the bad ones.
I wrote a negative review of the play White Christmas a couple of months ago. And I can still recall every unpleasant word that was written about my review. Let's just say the word "grinch" was thrown around several times. Turns out a bad review of White Christmas is equivalent to punching Santa Claus in the face in this town. And I get it. And I want people to voice their opinion and give me feedback. But the paradox of being a writer is that you write for yourself (anyone who says otherwise is LYING), but without readers your work just falls into a void. So you need your readers. Your readers make your work exist. They give it life. They pay your bills. And this entitles them to say whatever they darn well please.
But I don't know. I just don't think it will ever get easier. And I guess my whole long winded point to all of this, is that I get now that anytime anyone writes anything and puts it out into the universe, that thing is precious and personal to them. It doesn't matter if its a novel or a recap of the Real Housewives of DC. Both are that writer's art, their creation. One may take a whole lot less time, energy and love, but anything I write is a part of me, no matter how inane or trivial. And seeing it go up online is always kind of terrifying, because there's a part of me, up on the internet, for anyone to pick apart. Suddenly I'm that nervous 18 year old in my first college workshop, with my first HORRENDOUS short story (oh how bad that thing was), but which at the time I thought was just brilliant. I thought my classmates would love it and praise it and talk about how wonderful it was. My professor might just shake his head and say "I have nothing else to teach you." But instead that story got effectively beaten to a bloody pulp (and deservedly so) while I watched, and as a writer that means you're watching a piece of yourself get beaten to bloody pulp, and it really, really sucks.
But at the end of the day it's the only way to get better. Being a writer means getting over your own fat head again and again by the only effective means-harsh, public criticism. It means sulking, whining, complaining and getting defensive. But if you remember that you love it, if you remember that you want to be good at it, you'll get over it. You'll brush it off, and start again.
Unless crazy people post comments. Because apparently there are a TON of crazy people on the internet, and they are vocal. Those people a writer can ignore.