Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Confessions of an Arrogant Amateur

She was resistant to criticism. Disdainful to those who dared to critique her. Hostile, even.

(Although, she tried to hide it, gritting her teeth, smiling, nodding.)

She was amazed and outraged at every rejection. Why couldn't these people see the brilliance of her work? The humor? The heartbreak? The perfectly constructed, gem-like sentences?

(In her defense she was armed with degrees and experience. She had majored in English, taught writing, had written and published several short stories. Less talented writers than she had snagged publishing deals. She'd read their silly books. If they could catch the attention of an editor, why couldn't she?)

Still, she had to admit that she might be overlooking something important. Perhaps there was some secret to publishing that she had yet to discover. Perhaps, there was an essential element missing from her work...

She said she wanted someone to tell her what to DO with her manuscript. Just tell me what to do, she would lament, and I'll do it! 

(She was lying.)

What she wanted was for someone to tell her that her story was perfect exactly the way it was. When someone pointed out a problem, mentioned an area of confusion, offered--gasp!-- a suggestion, she'd think: Well, obviously they have no idea what I am trying to do here. They haven't read it carefully. This is a complicated, difficult book. They don't understand it! Blah blah blah etc.

But years of writing and submitting and being rejected had started to wear her down. One day, close to giving up, she saw a brochure for a week-long writing conference. She toyed with the idea of signing up, but wavered. Her hesitance was centered around the price tag, two thousand dollars! and for what? Workshops on Setting? Characterization? Plot? She knew all of this already! She spoke to one of the conference organizers on the phone.

I'm not sure if this is worth it, she said. I'm not a beginner. I'm on the verge. 

But even as she was speaking, confidently (arrogantly), a small scared voice in her head whispered:

If you know all of this, why aren't you published? 

She signed up for the conference. This is IT, she decided. A final effort at pursuing a dream. One last outlay of cash, of time. If she didn't get her big break, well, she'd given it her best shot.

She sent the first ten pages of her latest manuscript to be critiqued. The assigned mentor would read it and be blown away by the story. What is there to discuss? the mentor would likely say. This is perfect exactly the way it is. 

They met the first day of the conference. Not surprisingly, the mentor complimented our arrogant amateur on her writing. But then she asked several questions:

Why does your story start with this particular scene?
What does your main character want?
Where are the hints of conflict?
What is the driving question?
Have you tried--
Do you think--
Could you--

Our arrogant amateur could answer none of these questions. She stumbled back to her room and burst into tears.

Reality was a wave crashing over her carefully constructed wall of delusions, and she had to admit, finally, that she had no idea what she was doing.

But she wanted to learn.

Portrait of a No-Longer-Arrogant Amateur
with her mentor


  1. No walls, only openings. Find them and the view is worth the exploration.

    1. Very true. More and more I realize it is about the process--and not the final product. I am writing to figure something out, to explore, to discover. I work to make the best story I can, and then, I let it go, and write another story :)

  2. I think sometimes we don't know what we really don't know. It is a process!