In our Writing Lessons series, writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Randall Lahrman, a student in the MFA program at San Diego State University. You can follow him on Twitter @rando_scribe. —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor
There was a time when I would tell those around me that I was a writer who hated writers. This thought would often be on the top of my mind immediately after whichever fiction class I attended that day. I would drive home thinking about the latest round of stories and torture myself with short lists of annoyances: mundane plots, clichés, unnecessary twists, weak characterization, etc. And worst of all, I would replay in my head the positive comments the professor rained upon these classmates of mine.
I hated it, and I hated them.
I was a writer that hated writers.
The mistake I made from the beginning was that each time I read a peer’s story I would find myself comparing it to my own. Mine is better than this because… I would have written it this way so that… My story should have been the highlight this week due to… I put myself in direct competition with each writer in my class without attempting to sympathize with their efforts.
The ever-present silent criticism filled my skull with each class. I fell into a pit of criticism that I couldn’t pull myself out of. I gave each story I read feedback and made suggested edits, but once I was done I would begin my efforts to write something better than what I believed was the best story of the bunch. I was hurting myself with this mindset and stunting my ability to grow as a student.
During an office visit with my professor I discussed my attempts to purposefully produce better writing than my classmates. My professor, a man of great patience and wisdom, spent time with me detailing that there was no room for competition in the writing world. He shared the world of the writer with me by sharing tales of his experience with rejection letters, the value of peer editors and proof readers, the difficulties of getting published, the often-improved chances of getting something published simply because you networked properly, the unlikeliness of supporting yourself solely on writing, etc. We didn’t talk for very long, but the message sank in and started to lift me out of the cynical depths of my pit.
Since that day, when joining writing groups, I forced myself into conversing, I was nice and patient, and, most importantly, I stopped judging. I accepted and understood that each story bravely shared by my classmates deserves a chance to be heard. Through the minds and hearts of others, these stories are molded and fashioned into something wonderful. Peer reviews, second drafts, reading circles; all of these are necessary for stories to thrive and talents to flourish.
I accepted that I was not a perfect writer, and that I absolutely would benefit from the suggestions of others. I was foolish for keeping myself segregated. I was wrong for hating those who bore the same burden I did.
Being a writer is difficult. But we don’t have to do it alone.
Writing Lessons will be on vacation for the rest of the summer, and will return in September. In the meantime, you can still submit your essays for consideration! Read our guidelines here.