Well, I guess it couldn’t really be classified as flaming since she did it to my face, but close enough. Either way, please allow me to begin this story with a disclaimer that parts of it may or may not be fictional and I’ll end it with a harsh, but valuable lesson for any creative writer exposed to such cruelty from a beloved friend. For the purpose of protecting her identity, I’ll refer to my condescending friend as, Brunhilda, throughout the duration of this blog post.
Yesterday, Brunhilda stopped by my house so we could sip coffee and catch up on life. We often hang-out a few of times a month and it’s always a pleasure since Brunhilda and I have known each other for a really long time. We’ve been close since middle school, which is a bit like an eternity at our age. The only time we weren’t close was that time she moved away for a decade and I wondered if maybe she’d fallen off the planet or died. She didn’t.
To say that Brunhilda and I are are sarcastic with one another is an understatement. Much like I’m doing in this post, we’ve ribbed each other mercilessly for years, both reveling in one-uping the other at any chance available. Like snarky, immature teenagers trapped in the bodies of middle-aged women, we’re both capable of causing the other to laugh until peeing.
Well, yesterday Brunhilda really ribbed me right where it counted. With my book. You know, the one I’ve been bleeding, sweating and crying over for something like five million hours. Yeah, she got me right there, real good.
You see, Brunhilda knew that I’d been writing fiction for awhile now, just not this kind of fiction. Now, I’ll be the first to admit this whole thing was my fault to begin with. I didn’t follow the one golden rule of writing that I just made up, right now. That is, to never, ever share your work before it’s finished– with anyone. Ever. Not even your mother. Not even one of your best friends named Brunhilda. Why? Because they’ll find a way butcher your word-baby and corrupt your dreams, I tell you!
I’ll spare you the most gruesome details of her horrifying remarks as these are words no passionate romance reader ever needs to hear. It’s fine though, really– it’s just fine and later, I’ll tell you why, but first let me tell you… her harsh and horrendous peal of laughter erupted the instant she first saw my proud work. That sound will echo in my dreams for an eternity. Not really, but I’m trying to create a story here, so go with it.
So there I was, standing there with my lip out like a five-year-old who’d just had her lollypop stolen by an evil troll-woman, and what did she do? She cackled on! Vociferously mocking my prized writing. She called my book a corny, cheezy bodice-ripper! What a bitch. And I told her that she was, just like that. Unfortunately, we use that as an affectionate term, so my insult held no weight. But still. What. A. Bitch.
Apparently, she never read my blog post about why I love writing romance. She also clearly hasn’t learned to never cross a writer who knows so very much about you. So much for your heroine cameo in book three — ha! I hope you all enjoy reading about her as an evil sea-witch in a future series because that’s the only cameo she’ll be getting from me now. Take that, Brunhilda!
But you know what? I still love her and let me tell you why. After her incredibly harsh outburst, Brunhilda sat down and begrudgingly offered to let me read a few chapters of that cheezy romance of mine to her. After an hour of listening to as much of my story as she could handle, she gave me a humble nod and replied, “I guess it’s good for romance. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.”
Brunhilda left, I plotted my writing for the next day. My husband used his mysterious superpower senses on me before bed, detecting something had disrupted my writing forcefield and gave me a few encouraging words. This morning I woke up and the sun was still shining and I kept on writing, knowing Brunhilda would never, ever be a fan of my work. And that, my friends, is perfectly fine with me and it should be fine with you too.
If there was a lesson to my story, it would be this: Brunhilda is not the person I’m writing for and she probably never will be, nor is it my job to make her like what I’m writing. On top of that, there is certainly a million or more just like Brunhilda, who will absolutely hate what I write for millions of different reasons. They’ll be appalled by what myself and other romance writers pour our life-blood into– and really that’s okay. I can’t imagine what a boring world this would be if we all liked the same exact things, all the time.
On the other side of the coin, I’d be willing to guarantee there is a Guinevere out there somewhere who will adore and cherish that same book Brunhilda mocked. Probably even a few million or maybe even more. How do I know this? Let me indulge you with something super personal from my past.
Once upon a time when I was a professional artist, a painter to be exact. My work was regularly gawked at, criticized and fawned over by hundreds during countless art show openings spanning about a dozen years. I’ve learned painting is not much different than creative writing as it’s all just storytelling at the end of the day, just using a different medium.
Those people attending my art openings loved to talk about my work, critically inspecting it right in front of me and I’d be subjected their non-stop chatter for hours. They always had more to say about my work than I ever did, that’s for sure. They would go on and on while I stood mingling and smiling and nodding like a featured artist should. It was my least favorite part of that job and the main reason why I’ve shifted to painting with words these days.
What became most apparent over time was how the critics persist and become louder the more prominent you become. As a side, I’m convinced that there is little difference between prominence and persistence, as an artist of any kind. I’ll leave that blog post for another day though.
Early in my career, the harsh words used to hurt me. Fast-forward a dozen years later and all opinions of my artwork, both good and bad rolled off my back completely. Eventually, I realized for every person who came by with a critical assessment, one or two more would come up and be blown away, singing praises for the same piece. In the end, each piece would eventually find a home with someone who wanted it and really, that was all that mattered to me. And no, not for the money but because it gave my tireless work a purpose.
The other lesson here would be, having your work harshly criticized or even mocked is a great way to thicken up your skin, so be thankful for it. Yes, be thankful for criticism, constructive or otherwise because we creatives need a far thicker skin than most. If you are new to creating and sharing anything with the world on a large platform, I suggest you welcome those callouses that start actively building because they will serve and protect you well.
To summarize a discussion I had with an aspiring, creative youth in a workshop I held, not long ago:
How do you know when you’re an artist?
If you create art, you are an artist but you become an artist the second you start calling yourself one.
When can you start calling yourself a professional artist?
As soon as making art becomes your means for survival. This isn’t always about making money but rather, when making art becomes something that provides you with a valuable life and so you do it consistently for that purpose. Also, when you no longer care whether someone loves or hates what you are creating, you’ll be certain you’ve become a professional artist.
Of course, this is just my professional opinion, and we all know those are a dime a dozen. As much as this post was intended to be humorous, I hope it holds some value for creatives out there who, like me, had a tough time with the harsh criticism when first starting out. Don’t allow critics to stop you, ever because you only fail if you stop creating. Only allow the harsh words of others to strengthen you and build your armor from them, then carry on creating.
Back to writing–
So, today, I am writing with renewed purpose as I inspect my very first romance writing piece of armor, thanks to my dear friend, Brunhilda. I’m grateful for getting one step closer to fulfilling my purpose with this thing called writing. Thank you for picking on me whenever I need it most, my dear friend– I’ll get you back soon. I promise.
Brunhilda, this one is for you, toots.