Some people don’t place a lot of weight in zodiac signs; they think they’re arbitrary and pointless. But as a typical Leo, I measure my very worth by my sign: we’re generous, loyal and proud. Most of the time, the last trait serves me well; it bolsters my confidence and provides me with an innate sense of ability and optimism. But there’s a reason that pride is one of the deadly sins, often proving more hurtful than helpful.
My first job out of college was as a junior copywriter at an advertising agency. In this entry-level position, I was relegated to the status of a newborn, having to learn everything with a fresh set of eyes, even if I had been told I was a great writer…
Column by Pia Padukone, auther of the debut novel WHERE EARTH MEETS WATER
(April 2014, Harlequin MIRA). She was interviewed about the book by USA Today.
Pia was born, raised and continues to live in New York City. A graduate of
Stuyvesant High School and the London School of Economics, Pia has
worked as a copywriter in healthcare advertising. In their spare time,
Pia and her husband write Two Admirable Pleasures, a blog that
combines their shared passions for books and the culinary
dishes that are inspired by them. Find Pia
on Twitter and Facebook.
After a particularly grueling concept review, in which I’d been told that some of my headlines were banal and cliché, I felt broken. I went back to my desk, deflated and bitter. But my failure had not gone unnoticed; a more senior writer approached my desk as though I were a wounded bear, cautiously but well intentioned. He held out a few stapled pages in my direction. “Read this,” he said. “I think it will help.”
I glanced at the headline: The Art of Accepting Criticism. I rolled my eyes inconspicuously and placed the papers on a burgeoning pile. “Thanks,” I told him. “I’ll take a look.” My pride kept me from reading the essay for a few days, but when I finally did, I couldn’t believe I’d survived even those seventy-two hours more without it.
The pages were filled with exercises and examples, anecdotes and advice, but my major takeaway from that article, which I have held close to my heart ever since, was this: Don’t let your hurt keep you from learning where you need to go. Sounds simple, right? Don’t let your pride, your arrogance, your holier-than-thou-ness, the obdurate need to prove people wrong be your own obstacle in charting out the right route.
As writers, everything we create is personal, whether it’s fiction or non. But we can’t be writers unless there are readers, and everyone always has an opinion. When we’re rated for it – as we will be until the end of time, by reviewers, critics and even Goodreaders – it’s quite difficult to take a good, hard look at the criticism and turn it into an opportunity to make it work for you instead of allowing your pride to rise up against you.
Since I first read those words of advice, I have been trying hard to incorporate this way of life (because truly, that’s what it is) into the way I approach everything, whether it’s the physical challenge of training for a marathon, a mental one of learning to drive in my late twenties or even an emotional one, when I worked with my editor on my debut novel, Where Earth Meets Water.
The original editor who acquired my book did so with glowing words of praise that stoked my ego: “I foresee very few edits to this manuscript.” That was it. I’d done it. My beautiful novel, into which I had poured my heart and soul, was perfect as it was. This editor got it; she got me. And now all I had to do was sit back and let the publishing team package it prettily and send it out into the word.
But when I received a rather detailed editorial note back, I immediately displayed a
textbook case of inflated ego: defensive, accusatory, defiant. What did she understand, anyway, about my book and my characters’ motivations? She didn’t get me; she didn’t get us. I wasn’t budging. I put her notes down and stewed for days.
But then I remembered. Don’t let your hurt keep you from learning where you need to go. I asked my agent to take a closer look at her notes along with me. Maybe she was right; maybe that section was extraneous and meandered too far from the plot. Perhaps it would distract readers and dissuade them from reading further. Maybe she was right that the timeline skipped about too much, that it might confuse people. After I’d noodled and reshuffled sections, rewritten and replaced, I had to hand it to her. She was right; at the end of the day, I had a stronger, tighter, more engaging book that even I liked better than the original draft. My editor had been on my side the whole time; she had gotten my story and me; she’d only wanted to make it better. And the only way I could get there along with her was by abandoning my hurt, my knee-jerk defensiveness and focusing on creating a beautiful story that people wouldn’t be able to put down.
That doesn’t mean that it’s easy; I certainly haven’t mastered the art of not letting my hurt get in the way of creating beautiful work. It’s a constant struggle every day. But I try to focus on the fact that the beneficial outcomes usually always outweigh my pride. It’s the only way to move forward, whether you’re a writer, a banker or a chef, to keep on learning, keep on changing, keep on getting better.
This guest column is a supplement to the
“Breaking In” (debut authors) feature of this author
in Writer’s Digest magazine. Are you a subscriber
yet? If not, get a discounted one-year sub here.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Writer’s Block is a State of Mind.
- Why Writers Shouldn’t Google Themselves.
- How Deadlines Can Help Your Writing.
- NEW Agent Seeking Clients: Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates.
- Sell More Books by Building Your Author Platform.
- Making Sense of a Rejection Letter.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and how to write a query letter.
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