Every time I finish a manuscript critique and I’m about to send it off to the writer, I always feel a little nervous before I hit Send. I feel like I’m letting the writer down, like I’m sending a package of disappointment their way. Because almost always, the story or the writing needs more work. Something crucial is missing, or something about the writing is not working. Or it has the quality of a first draft, the story not quite clear yet. I always try to be kind and encouraging in my critique, but I know disappointment is inevitable, because I’ve been there too, many times.
That disappointment stings so much because we’ve been led to believe that writing is a talent with a capital T that you either have or don’t have. And when someone tells us our story needs more work, what it feels like they’re telling us is: you’re not a writer; you don’t have Talent. But writing is nothing more than a skill. Skill with a small s. A skill which can be taught and learned. Which is to say, the more you do it, the better you get at it.
No one, absolutely no one, writes a story which comes out brilliant and shining and fully formed in the first draft. But we’re precious about our writing because, hey it’s our thing. It’s our Talent. If we don’t have writing, what do we have?
The more I do this work, the more I realize how damaging all this talk of talent is. We’re over the moon when someone tells us they love our writing and then plunged into the depths of despair (hello Anne fans!) when someone tells us there’s more work to be done. And I say “we” because I’ve been there. For too long, my writing was me and I was my writing and it was hard to disentangle the two.
But when I started to treat my writing like any other interest, something that I wanted to develop and work on, just like any other skill, I experienced a shift. I could get critiqued on my writing and not feel that deep and profound disappointment that I once used to because I knew how much more I had to learn, and that I could get better with practice. And more importantly, someone could say to me that they loved my writing and it wouldn’t keep my head in the clouds for days. It still feels good to hear that, but more than anything, it feels humbling. Because I know that this is not something that is unique to me. Anyone can write, and anyone can learn to write better.