By Heather Drabant
Writers tend to be reluctant to show their work to others. We’ve all hovered our cursors over the send button for longer than necessary. Maybe we even changed our minds and closed the window.
Why is this simple act so difficult?
When we pass a manuscript to an acquisitions editor, beta reader, or even a friend, we’re opening ourselves up to critique. To hearing that the story we’ve lovingly labored over for months is lacking in some way. That leads us to wonder if we’re lacking too. So we avoid the discomfort by plunging into an endless editing cycle—or by stashing the file in a dark corner of our computer.
I understand the struggle. During most of my middle school and early high school years, I worried about being humiliated if my work was less than perfect. In my first interactive writing class, I held back and gained little. I didn’t consider the long-term effects. When I let fear win, I handicapped myself creatively.
To grow as writers, we need feedback from multiple sources. Yes, the negative comments will sting, but we can reduce the pain if we nurture four mindsets.
1. Have Faith
Whether you place your trust in God, your own abilities, or (as you should) both, faith stimulates action. It guides you through the fires of failure so you emerge a wiser person, and it keeps track of your victories so you remember what you’re capable of.
I’m not talking about overconfidence. I’m talking about belief in your own potential, a conscious decision to do your best, and the contentment to accept whatever happens. The day I submitted a short story to an anthology, I couldn’t have been more terrified. But my commitment to be grateful no matter the outcome emboldened me. I earned a spot in the anthology, as well as a newfound joy in the ups and downs.
Faith is your lifeline. If you haven’t pinpointed why you’re pursuing a writing opportunity, search it out. Your motivation doesn’t need to be huge as long as it’s significant to you. Are you trying to hone a skill? Do you love writing about historical figures? If you concentrate on that reason, you’ll have a sense of peace that no amount of rejections or criticism can shake.
2. Build Resilience
You were born with the strength to recover from disappointments. When a bump in the road causes you to fall, you’re not meant to stay down. If you continue to sprawl in the dirt, that’s a choice, not a sign of weakness. You just need to stand again. Then put one foot in front of the other. Apply bandaids to your scratches and ice to your bruises. Stop to rest if you’re out of breath. But don’t leave the race, even if you feel like you’re hobbling.
Your goal is not to beat others to the finish line but to learn to look at the road ahead and say, “This is scary. But I can do it. And the challenge will change me for the better.”
Practice makes progress. Ask a friend to read a poem you’re not 100 percent satisfied with. Enter a story in a contest to get feedback instead of winning. Recognize that every writer runs on a different timeline, and praise God that He’ll clear paths for you when you’re ready. With each risk you take, you’ll tone your writing muscles, train yourself to be brave, and build endurance that will carry you farther than clinging to the “safety” of remaining motionless.
3. Be Teachable
If you submit a piece with the mentality that it’s as flawless as it can be, prepare to be stunned—and stagnate your career. Taking pride in your work is fine. I’d even argue that it’s healthy (remember point number one!). However, no author can bypass revisions. Whether you’re a beginner or a bestseller, you’ll need the advice of editors and proofreaders prior to publication. Your closeness to the words you’ve written prevents you from noticing areas that could be improved. There’s no shame in that.
Cultivate a habit of seeking and welcoming alternate opinions. Strive to be a clear yet gracious communicator, and familiarize yourself with the process of shipping a manuscript back and forth to an editor. Most importantly, appreciate the people who catch mistakes you missed instead of reacting with indignation or despair. Collaboration can produce beautiful results if you approach it with an open mind.
A writing group, whether online or local, can be another avenue for gathering input. Surrounding yourself with other aspiring writers (and those who are a few steps ahead of you) will provide you with a comfortable environment to discuss your projects. You’ll expose yourself to a variety of perspectives and writing styles. And if you invest in those connections, your community will celebrate with you when you hit a milestone and support you when you’re faltering.
As you sharpen your skills by interacting with peers and professionals, be sure to document your progress. You’ll be able to assess yourself more accurately in the future if you can review the techniques you did and didn’t nail in the past. I’m always glad I saved my writing, because it allows me to see how far I’ve come and where I need to head next.
4. Be Flexible
Writers are encouraged to set goals and aim for excellence. Ambition is a valuable trait. But be careful not to marry yourself to one version of success. If you hope to become a famous action-adventure novelist and release half a dozen books by age thirty, you need to chase that dream with a heart that’s receptive to redirection. Otherwise, setbacks will cause your morale to plummet.
God may have different plans for you. He may nudge you down a detour that seems to distance you from your destination, when it’s actually a shortcut—or a lesson in patience. Writing is an exploratory calling that involves experimenting with new ideas and venturing into unknown territory. Embrace those surprises.
When you’re overprotective of a goal or project, Scott Berkun calls that “being precious”: “You’re behaving as if the draft, the sketch, the idea you’re working on is the most important thing in the history of the universe. It means you’ve lost perspective and can’t see the work objectively anymore.” This hinders your growth as a writer and as a person. Whatever you’re immersed in right now does not define you. Your identity is in Christ, not your writing.
I fight obsessive thinking by dividing projects into sections. When I reach a specific level of completion with each one, I move on. I still wrestle with perfectionism on a regular basis, but having a system has kept me from sinking into inactivity.
Focusing on the Big Picture
I’m a participant in Praxis, a fast-paced professional development program designed to jumpstart careers. The strategies I’ve described in this article have been revolutionary in my writing journey and my experience with Praxis. I’ve met challenges, accomplished personal goals, and rebounded from failure. You can do the same.
Every writer needs to become accustomed to sharing content they’ve created. To survive in the publishing industry, you must be willing to face scrutiny, both from the public and from the handful of people who read your manuscript before it’s bound in a spine. If you temper your determination with humility, people will want to team up with you. And you’ll be honoring God, which is your ultimate mission.
The next time you hesitate to click send, think of all you’ll lose if you don’t.
Heather is a writer, follower of Christ, and lover of challenges. She spends her time experimenting, engaging with her passions, and working on actionable steps toward her career goals. When she’s not doing that, you can find her reading, falling in love with the latest film in the MCU, and sketching. You can learn more about her at HeatherDrabant.com.