I love watching and listening to the interviews Bill Kenower conducts on AuthorMagazine.org. Besides asking questions that show he has read the book the author is promoting as well as general writing questions, he always asks at the end of the interview ‘If writing has taught me one thing, it’s….’
This is my absolute favorite question. I look forward to the author’s answer because you can see the hamster running around the wheel in their mind as they ponder it. It’s fun watching the expression on the author’s face change. Up until that question, the author is usually relaxed and exhibits confidence in their answers. They are talking about the book after all; it’s easy to discuss where the idea came from, the process, what you’ve learned. But when that one question comes up, it’s Whoa! The uhs and ums come out. The writer breaks eye contact to stare at the ceiling, perhaps willing the deity of their choice to quickly inspire them. It’s a fascinating bit of people watching.
I love this question because as a new writer it’s illuminating hearing the answers. Many authors cite writing has taught them to be patient, persistent, and to have confidence in their abilities. Others have cited writing has taught them how to be a better person in that they are more aware of the world around them, to treat people better, and to listen more. Another common answer is writing has taught them to be themselves, to be comfortable, and confident in who they are.
I must admit, depending upon the interview I’ve just heard or watched I find myself changing my own answer. I guess it’s because the answers provided get me thinking about how the author came to that conclusion.
So if I ever get the privilege, this is how I would answer it, at least at this point:
If writing has taught me one thing, it has taught me to stand up for myself. Being a writer is what I feel like I was meant to be. Being able to express myself also means exposing myself to criticism. This has been both good and bad but what has amazed me is how I’ve been able to handle it. If someone has a constructive criticism, I can choose to entertain their comments or ignore them, sticking to my story how it is written if that is what I as a writer feel comfortable with. When it has come to the other kind of criticism, I have yet to back down from my work. I know what the intention of my piece is and what the thought process was behind it. If someone finds it offensive, that’s fine but I simply don’t see the need to apologize.
This is vastly different from my approach in other areas of my life. Normally I would be upset and feel a lot of guilt at causing anger in someone. I would apologize even when the cause was not something I did that was harmful. Just a matter of one person taking exception to something even when there was no malicious intent. But as I’ve taken writing more seriously, I find myself slowly able to stand up for myself. I don’t get defensive or unnecessarily apologetic as much. I remain calm and if there is something I should genuinely apologize for, then I do.
It’s funny to think that a profession such as writing, one where the writer is subject to all kinds of comments, criticisms, and analysis, that it could actually improve one’s self-esteem. Writers are told to develop a thick-skin. I used to think that referred to putting on a brave face in public and accepting quite quickly not everyone will like your work. Instead I’ve learned developing a thick-skin isn’t simply referring to one’s work but one’s life as well.