Harsh Truths Can Make You Better If You Don’t Quit
Use pain as a teacher.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s adage says, “what does not kill me makes me stronger.” If you’re thinking of the Kelly Clarkson song’s trendier version with the same words, you’re right too.
Research backs up both counts with data that people who have failures early in their careers have huge success later.
It seems to be true that you get stronger through adversity. What few people are saying is that the truth hurts like hell, but it may be just the push you need to work a little harder toward your goals.
I read something Matthew Kent wrote recently, and my eyes got watery because I can relate to the pain he shares. As writers, we watch those around us. Some of them are beyond where we are and enjoy greater rewards. Others are looking to us as part of their success story. It’s a responsibility, to wear our achievements well, but sometimes we fail. Matthew talks about how a successful writer he admires said: Maybe your writing isn’t any good.
That comment cut to his core and it wasn’t even directed at him, but affected him deeply. He wrestles with the feelings that we’re not good enough yet, and maybe we’ll never be good enough ever.
Tears welled up in my eyes because I remember times when people said equally hurtful things to me. In the moment, we’re sucker-punched, doubled over, and fighting for air, but it’s what we do after the delivery of these comments that matters most. We have to find a way to keep going.
“Your writing is raw.”
Someone you admire left the comment that your writing is raw. If he enjoyed what you wrote, wouldn’t he have said, “I enjoy what you’ve said here”?
My response was, “Thanks, I think.”
But, raw? What does that mean?
It means you’re not very good yet, but there’s a diamond in the rough that might shine through with some polish.
“Your writing is so cute.”
Cute? Someone you think highly of thinks your writing is cute. Aww shucks, well color you pretty in pink with bows in your pigtails, wearing your fancy new dress, lurping on a lollipop. Cue the Lollipop Guild in munchkin land because they are so cute you want to pinch their adorable cheeks.
This also means you’re not good yet.
“You’re getting good.”
“You have bright moments.”
Is it better to sugar-coat the issue or be direct?
“You’re not very good yet.”
That’s ballsy. It might get you punched. And it might be right.
I remember exactly who said each of the above comments to me and the environment in which they were said. Raw was a comment on one of my posts. I was cute on a mentor call. You have bright moments was told to my face. Every one of them was incredibly painful at the time. When someone you look up to tells you you’re not very good yet, it can crush your spirit if you let it.
Instead of letting those comments kill your drive and inspiration, you can turn them into a kick in the butt to propel you forward.
“People will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel,” — Maya Angelou
Practice every day. Write every day, or you’ll never measure up. You’re left feeling guilty for each day life stepped in, and you didn’t write. And, here’s the rub, you still don’t know what you don’t know. Maybe you’ll pick up the nuances in time, but if you watch someone who’s already successful, you’ll get there a lot faster.
The biggest thing that helped me was one special person who nurtured me. He let me know I mattered by taking my hand and walking me through some of my writing. It was an investment of time on his part. A substantial amount of time to let me know that he cared. He came along-side and said, “I’ll help you. I’ll teach you what you don’t know.”
He scribbled all over my work, telling me what piece to move where, and to remove all passive voice. He gifted a few words of his own into my writing. It hurt, and it was a good hurt. It’s the kind of pain that makes you better. I still hear his advice when I write.
And it’s what I try to do for others. I try to offer skills instead of gut-wrenching comments that make people want to quit. If someone looks up to you, it’s important to remember that you’re holding their dream in your hands and it will shine when you nurture it well.
It’s up to them to apply the skills. Sometimes they fight it for a while, but they see the value you’ve offered before long. We all know what they say about hindsight.
It takes more than a desire to be a writer. It takes skills too. You have to struggle through the teaching and move to the application step. You can stay where you are or move to the next level. And, there’s always a next level, even for those you think have arrived. As long as you keep moving and learning and growing, you can’t go backward. Forward motion is good motion. Let those ugly comments we’ve all heard be the kick in the pants you need to move you forward.
Watch the masters for format and skill, but use your own voice. Joanna Penn has a whole series of books with tools and advice. In Business For Authors. How To Be An Author Entrepreneur, she teaches how to build your writing into a business, how to coach others, and more tips you don’t even know you need. She’ll take you from being an author to running your own business as an author. I highly recommend her book. If you don’t have money to invest in yourself, Google what you want to learn. A plethora of courses is offered for free. If writing is your passion and you don’t have money to spend, then double-down on your Google efforts and take a short-cut to greatness.
Offer techniques. Teach skills. Give hope.
As much as you can, whisper hope in the ear of someone who wants to be like you. Be a guide to walk them through the process a few times. Hold their hand for a little while; hold their heart forever. Isn’t hope better than putting someone down? Try giving hope as a better approach.