Lean on me


leaning

Image by acute_tomato via Flickr

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don’t let show

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

If there is a load you have to bear
That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me

So just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’d understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Lean on me when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Lean on me…

~ Bill Withers | 1972

Writing is the best and worst job. Like any job or calling, writing has its pros and cons:

Pros

  • You are doing something you love.
  • It is not just a job.
  • It nurtures your creativity.
  • Your words may just touch someone, may even change them.
  • You can choose to do this “job” alongside a normal 9-5 job.

Cons

  • It is one of the misunderstood job descriptions – most people put it in the “hobby” category.
  • It is an activity that can insulate you from your loved ones and/or a social life.
  • It can be very lonely.
  • It is a world in your head and your characters are often your only colleagues in this work space.

Over the last year I have “met” many writers online in social networks and different writers’ communities. I have learnt a lot from many of these new friendships. I am very fortunate in that I have a family who stands behind me 100% with any of my writing dreams. I know not all writers or creative people have that fortune. But as much as I love my family and their support it is important to have support from people in the same field as you. This support from fellow writers is especially essential if you are just starting out on the writing road. This is where you can gain critique partners, beta readers or even mentors/coaches through these connections.

It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.  ~Sinclair Lewis

But what happens when these fellow writers, people who know what you do and understand what you do because they are in the same boat, turn on you? What happens when you trust a fellow writer and they attack you rather than bolster you? I am not talking constructive criticism. That is after all what we need our fellow writers for. No. I am talking about writers being unsupportive of you.

“There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
Somerset Maugham

It is hard enough when your friends and your family don’t support you or maybe don’t “get” your writing and subtly (tongue-in-cheek) point you in another direction. Even if it stings you can write off their disapproval because they don’t write. But when a fellow writer attacks your writing style then it is quite a different story. It stings.

But you have to look at the underlying reasons that a fellow writer may be attacking you. Perhaps they really don’t understand your style of writing because it is different from their’s. Perhaps they are fearful your writing style is actually better than their’s. Perhaps they are nit-picking aspects of your writing to make you doubt yourself or leave your manuscript. Perhaps they have a degree in English Literature and you don’t. Perhaps they are pursuing the Big 6 publishers in NY and you are going the indie route. Do any of these reasons make you less of a writer than they are? No. None of these reasons do.

But this does not stop these sorts of attacks from writers on other writers happening.

A word is not the same with one writer as with another.  One tears it from his guts.  The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.  ~Charles Peguy

That saddens me. After all aren’t we all in the same boat? Aren’t we all chasing the same dream? Did we really start writing purely for publication and competition with other writers? Maybe you did. I cannot talk for every writer. But for the most part, the writers I do know and respect started writing and kept at writing because they love writing. It is something that flows within your veins. Yes you can learn more of the writing craft. You can polish your grammar skills. You can learn all the “publishing” lingo. You can learn more about the publishing industry. But in the end that is all semantics.

To be a writer you need to write. This means you need to follow the path you feel is right for you. I can guarantee you criticism along this path. I can guarantee you judgement. I guarantee that some people are going to hate your writing and others are going to love it. I guarantee you that you will get every piece of advice, solicited and unsolicited, thrown at you from both your writing networks and your social/personal networks. But sometimes you will get asked advice from other writers. Your opinion will be seeked. All I ask you in these times is to be gentle in your wording. Think before you speak. Remember that when a fellow writer trusts you enough to ask you to read/critique their work it is a huge step of trust. They are standing on a fragile precipice at this point.

And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.  The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.  ~Sylvia Plath

Writing like any other creative pursuit is challenging and difficult enough without suffering the arrows of contention thrown by fellow creatives. As fellow writers we should be each other’s greatest support. At the top of this post I pasted the lyrics to a very well-known song. Keep these lyrics in mind when you are reading/critiquing another’s art, another’s work. It takes courage to write. It takes more courage to keep on writing. It takes even more courage to show someone your writing. Bolster that courage. Be honest but be gentle. Irregardless of whether they are pursuing a different form of publishing than you are, it does not make their endeavours any less worthy. There are more than enough critics in the literary world. There is still room for more support and community.

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” Gloria Steinem 

Most of all, irregardless of the arrows: Keep on Writing. Don’t give up. If this is something you want to do, love to do, need to do: don’t let anyone – in the industry or not – stand in your way. Rejection is par for the course in the creative realm. But courage and persistence is also par for the course. So if you have had bad advice or a bad critique experience, take heed. Take a deep breath. Count to 10. Then continue with the piece you are writing or start something new. But WRITE. At the end of the day everything else is semantics. To be a writer you need to Keep Writing. Write in spite of the arrows of contention. Write because this is your path and nobody can dictate its direction but you.

“You fail only if you stop writing.” Ray Bradbury

Kim

7 Comments

  1. Great post, Kim! I teach a structure class and always tell my students what a good critique looks like compared to a, well… downright horrible one. We’re not taught to critique, that’s the trouble. And sometimes other writers are either a) worried you are better than they are or b) (and most likely) doing what they think is right (which, of course, is never right for YOUR work. Just theirs.)

    I’ve personally encountered this, had a book of mine torn to shreds by a (I choose to believe) well meaning writer shortly before (same day) my editor contacted me to tell me she loved it. I was in panic mode, second guessing myself, wondering why any publisher would want me (so silly)–only to discover (after sharing the notes with my editor) that most of them were the other writer’s attempt to prove to me she knew what she was doing.

    So unnecessary! And makes me sad. She was trying, but with her own agenda. Choosing crit partners and beta readers is a tough process but so valuable when you hit the right combination.

  2. Thank you for your supportive and encouraging post.

    I quite often feel that other writers can be jealous of your own work, and when critiquing it are quite overly critical. But then that is just my impression. If I don’t like a particular genre, I won’t critique it.

    I love critiquing others work, it gives me the opportunity to find out what works, what doesn’t and it points out my own errors – strange how that works.

  3. Wonderfully put Kim. Writing is what we do and we need to keep at it no matter what we encounter or from who. Very thoughtful and bolstering to the spirit. Thanks for reminding us why we do this and how to overcome the adversity.

  4. Wow, extraordinarily timely for me…got a critique last night that was so non-specific and non-constructive that it baffled me. I let it get inside my head, but I see now that I really didn’t need to. Thanks for this!

  5. Way to go, Kim. The net gain, or loss, of most endeavors comes down to one’s attitude. A healthy, positive outlook often makes all the difference. I respect, admire, and strictly adhere to the philosophy you’ve put forth in your lovely blog post…words to live by. Full steam ahead. Great piece.

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