I’m taking two writing-based classes this semester: Fiction Writing II And Screenwriting II. Both of them obviously deal with writing your own creative work and letting your classmates read it. For Fiction Writing, I’ve turned in one short story out of two. It wasn’t my best work, but it wasn’t my worst, either, and in my critique, the comments and discussion reflected that, I thought. And afterwards, as I naturally do after critiques, I began questioning myself as a writer: am I truly cut out for this? Am I good enough? Good enough not even meaning am I “talented” enough to write, but am I dedicated enough? And, more importantly, can I separate myself as creator from my work and not only look at it objectively so I can edit it, but can I learn to accept criticism and not take it as someone trying to stab and destroy my child (for some of my works, it doesn’t feel so personal, but for the trilogy I have been working on for over three years, that I definitely have a great attachment towards it)?
I have these questions often, especially as no matter what work I am turning in — whether I have been working on a concept and developing it for months or wrote a quick story in a manner of a couple hours and a few simple revisions — I always get so nervous about people critiquing it and judging it, because I want people to enjoy my work. I want them to enjoy reading my stories and want to continue reading. In my dreams of being an author, that fear of people not liking my work is going to be realized heavily once I’m published. After getting published, if you get to a big enough scale, you are basically offering your work on a silver platter to the world and asking them to give their opinion about it. Which, through social media, blogs, Tumblr and various other forms and outlets, they definitely will, both positive and negative. And since I take critiques so personal, I have often asked myself if I can truly handle the profession I want to pursue, because that’s going to be intense.
This fear of judgement and failing to please my audience has actually given me writer’s block the past week and half in my Screenwriting class. I’m working on a 60 page screenplay that, as of two weeks ago, I was on page 11 of, and had been critiqued twice over. It’s an idea that I plan to flesh out into a full-length film — 120 or so pages — and I have thought out enough that that is totally possible, even though only 60 is due for the class. And it is an idea that, although I had only toyed with the bare threads of it prior, I would actually love to finish and one day adapt into a novel. So while I’m not as connected as I am with my Destiny of the Dragons trilogy, I am still invested. And we go through critiques a lot more often than we do in my Fiction Writing class. There, it is roughly once or twice a semester. In Screenwriting, I am critiqued each time I post an update, which could be once a week.
So, last week, my goal was to write the next scene or the next 10 pages, roughly. I wrote three or four pages and then just stopped, mid-scene. I couldn’t get over the fact that my classmates were going to read it the next day and I had absolutely convinced myself that they weren’t going to like it. So I stopped writing it and didn’t turn in anything the next day for class. By that Thursday, I still hadn’t written more and definitely wasn’t going to post the few pages I had. I hadn’t even glanced at it. Fast-forward to this week. I had finishing that scene on my To-Do list, but I was still hesitant to work on it. Then, class on Tuesday gets cancelled. I was elated. Another class saved from being critiqued. Now, it’s Wednesday night. I have class tomorrow.
I also have 20 pages of my screenplay completed.
After finishing a novel for my Science Fiction class (yeah, I know, my schedule is pretty bomb this semester), it was only 10pm. I don’t have to go to bed until midnight, so that’s still two hours I needed to fill up, especially as I told myself I was not playing PS3 tonight. I have some Western Civilization homework to complete, but that isn’t due until Sunday, so I couldn’t justify working on that when Screenwriting is tomorrow. However, that nagging doubt was still lingering in the back of my head. But, I also had this itch inside of me. I needed to write. I hadn’t written all week and most of last week. I needed to write.
So I grabbed my headphones, opened up YouTube to listen to my latest addiction (in case you were curious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZy8L-CnSGQ) and opened up my screenplay. And I wrote. I reread what I had previously written, tweaked a few things and finished the scene. Thirty minutes later, I had added nine more pages. My goal was completed. And it felt great.
And, craziest part of it all? Those three pages I had written last week? They were pretty good. They weren’t brilliant, by any means, but they weren’t the horrid pieces of shit that I had convinced myself they were. The scene projected the story, introduced a new (but very minor) character, and now my protagonist is on his way to the scene that will transport him into the first real action of the story. I like the character development and the world is still mysterious to everyone but me, including my readers and protagonist, which has a coyness that is definitely my style. Things are coming together, slowly but surely.
So, in Fiction Writing this week, we got our grades back on our first stories. My professor ranted for a good 10 minutes about how poor the quality was of our stories: how grammar was lacking, there seemed to be no interest in what was being written, no respect for what we were writing and turning in. She gave more C- and C+’s than she has ever gave. The knot in my stomach was tight. This was not the message I needed to hear as I was already in a state of questioning my ability to make it as a writer. And then, she starts off, “Nicole’s story, for example…”
Here we go.
First, she says she is picking on my story because she enjoyed reading it. Okay, that’s a plus. And then she goes on to say that it needs character development. It needs to be more than an idea driven story, as I had confessed it had been a week earlier during my critique. It needed to be character driven. But, she also said that it had potential and that with work, if I looked at the right markets, it was a publishable short story. I could make it work. So not only did my professor — a published, successful, award-winning fantasy author (the same general genre I want to write in) — said she enjoyed reading my story, she also said she could see it getting published. And, I got a B+ on it. That was awesome.
Another thing she mentioned that class was that you can tell you’re meant to be a writer by one thing: there are people in the world with the talent to write and there are people who don’t have it. There are people who have the drive to write and the dedication to do so and some that don’t. But what makes a person a writer, and those who can be successful with careers as writers, is that they can’t go through life without writing. They may not only write as a career, they may become best-sellers, but no matter what, they are writing, because they can’t live without doing so.
That’s how I know I’m a writer. I haven’t gotten into the habit of writing everyday and that sometimes has me question whether or not I’m a writer. I haven’t worked on my novels in a couple weeks, at least. But, I’ve written blogs. I’ve written book reviews. I’ve written in two different journals. I’ve written letters. I’ve written short stories, completed short writing exercises and worked on a screenplay. Just because I’m not working on my main project every day doesn’t mean that I’m not a writer. Just because I get attached to my work and am nervous about every critique doesn’t mean I’m not a writer. Just because I get writer’s block sometimes and have to power through that doesn’t mean I’m not meant to be a writer.
I’m a writer because I can’t imagine my life without that component in it, and in it heavily. A lot of my time is spent writing, regardless of what type of writing that is. And I am happiest when I am writing. I feel whole when I write. And it is that feeling that puts pushes the other doubts away. Do I have room to grow? Absolutely. Do I have a lot of work to do? Most definitely. Will I continue to question whether or not this is the right path for me? Occasionally, yes, the doubt will return.
But will I ever stop writing?
I think you know the answer to that.