The Man from the lobby

I had an hour to kill.

Decided to sit in the hotel lobby and people watch.  I was in town to give another presentation of a book I had gotten published the year before.

Then I saw him.   A man who had attended a previous presentation I had given 6 months before.  Felt a low-grade panic settle in my gut.  All I knew about the man was he too was an author.  Pretty sure he was a college professor.  My biggest concern was a good portion of my presentation would be similar to the one he had heard 6 months before.

Dang.

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I’m one of those people who when faced with a fear, 9 times out of 10 I will got after it head on, rather than stew.   I decided to head to the conference room early and re-introduce myself to the man from the  lobby.

He wasn’t hard to find.  He was sitting close to the front, right behind my table.  I walked up to him, and said I remembered him from before.  He instantly lit up. I put one knee down on the carpet, next to the table, and confessed to him, much of what he would hear  this afternoon was probably going to sound familiar.  I’ll never forget what he told me.

” You need to make sure you tell the story you told before, the one about the feedback you’d received on your rough draft. Bill So and So and I talked about that after your presentation.  That was so powerful.”

I looked him in the eyes, and thanked him profusely…for you see, the last time I had given my presentation, I had vented to the assembled.  I had gotten off my notes and shared some behind the scene angst on the writing of my book.  I questioned the wisdom of doing that at the time.  Come to find out, this seasoned author, this man from the lobby,  had been touched by that story, as much, if not more, than by my book.

We never know, do we.

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If you’re a long time reader, you may remember.  I’d written the introduction and first chapter to a book.  Shared it with someone I used to get together with on a regular basis, who had had several things published and seems to know what he was talking about when giving feedback.  Well, his feedback, while well meaning, was brutal.  I ended up second guessing myself to the point, the book project was shelved from 2008 until 2015…

7 years.

Then after 7 years, I still had this book rumbling around in my head.  The internal pressure began to build.  Those of you that have to write know what I’m talking about.

I had to get it out.

Even if it didn’t  measure up.

So in 2015 I wrote  the rough draft.

Then in 2016 I got it published.

 

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Here is an excerpt from my favorite writing mentor Brenda Ueland from her book If You Want To Write:

“How does the creative impulse die in us?  The English teacher who wrote fiercely on the margin of your theme in blue pencil: “Trite, rewrite, helped to kill it.  Critics kill it, your family.  Families are great murderers of the creative impulse, particularly husbands. Older brothers sneer at younger brothers and kill it.  There is that American pastime known as “Kidding” – with the result that everyone is ashamed and hangdog about showing the slightest enthusiasm or passion or sincere feeling about anything….

You have noticed how teachers, critics, parents, and other know-it-alls, when they see you have written something, become at once long-nosed and finicking and go through it gingerly sniffing out the flaws. AHA! a misspelled word! as though Shakespeare could spell! As though spelling, grammar and what you learn in a book about rhetoric has anything to do with freedom and imagination….

And so no wonder you don’t write and put it off month after month, decade after decade.  For when you write, if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free, free and not anxious.  The only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny; whose attitude is: Tell me more.  Tell me all you can.  I want to understand more about everything you feel and know….Let more come out….

Yes, I hate orthodox criticism.  I don’t mean great criticism, like that of Matthew Arnold and others, but the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them when they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, and weazening all vision and bravery.

I hate it not so much for my own account, for I have learned at last not to let it balk me.  But I hate it because of the potentially shining, gentle, gifted people of all ages that it snuffs out every year.  It is a murderer of talent.  And because the most modest and sensitive people are the most talented, having the most imagination and sympathy, these are the very first to get killed off.  It is the brutal egotist that survive…

…. and so now you will begin to work on your writing.  Remember these things. …Work with all your intelligence and love.  Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you.   Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters…”

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Well, time to get to work.  🙂 Later! DM

 

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