Several years ago I wrote my first novel, a spiritual romance based on Kabbalah and a heroine’s journey. I have dreamed of being an author since I discovered reading, but found that sharing my writings was often a dangerous experience. Rather than helpful reviews I would receive condemnation on my efforts, but not for the typical reasons.
I would expect to be told that I need to work on character development or plot, or even my level of description. Any of that would help me become a better writer. The feedback I received, however, taught me to be cautious about sharing my creativity.
Initially I asked people I knew from my spiritual and religious life to read my novel and give me feedback. Some of them were also aspiring authors. The feedback sounded much like this:
- I know you gave me your book to read, but I can’t remember if I read it;
- So many authors’ first books are autobiographical. That does not work;
- I found a typo on page 37. Don’t you know how to proofread?
- Do you know that you write seductively? I am not sure that works;
- It sounds like you don’t understand character motivation. What kind of motivation is spiritual growth?
- I think you need more work on your spiritual understanding;
- It sounds like you finally got in touch with your emotions.
I do not know why this surprised me. Some of the first feedback I received as a child was from my grandmother who after hearing one of my ghost stories, asked “Can’t you write about nicer things?” She also told me to major in English and learn to spell.
I have received, of course, great feedback from my closest friends. But this experience made me even more reticent to share my writing. I can stand up and speak in huge auditoriums full of strangers, but I felt naked when I shared my writing. Until I realized that writing a novel was more than many of my critics had accomplished. They were not critiquing me, they were critiquing themselves. My efforts, successful or not, threatened their personal story of being a spiritual leader who someday would write an amazing book. They experienced my creativity as a judgment in a zero-sum game where only a set number of people can be successful.
This made me wonder, why does my adventure, or creativity or success or commitment to personal growth evoke anger or fear in others? Perhaps more importantly, why should I care? I am not, in the end, writing for them anyway. I am writing for myself, fulfilling the dream of being an author that has haunted me since childhood.
Every published author I know says the secret to writing is to write. Daily. Everywhere. About anything and everything. Write and write and write, without thinking about the critics. Add to that, every great writer is also a reader, and probably an observer of the world around them. I watch people interact which helps me write better dialogue. I read books and learn from the mistakes and triumphs of others. I joyfully celebrate when other authors are successful. I engage in my life, as well as in my dreams.
I have learned to let others judge and fall victim to jealousy, played out through destructive criticism. Truth be told, I do not like Hemingway or Melville, but I doubt they would care. They wrote because it was who and what they were meant to do. I am meant to write and speak and share my dreams of the future. I have been fired for this authenticity, but in the end I am the winner with a free and soaring heart, defying gravity. I am an artist of words and fibers and phrases and dreams. And if you happen to love what I create, then be inspired by it, and find your own renaissance of spirit.
DR. ELISA ROBYN, A MODERN-DAY RENAISSANCE EDUCATOR AND LEADER, IS THE AUTHOR OF THE WAY OF THE WELL, A SPIRITUAL ROMANCE, AND PIRATE WISDOM, LESSONS IN LEADERSHIP. HER ECLECTIC CAREER POSITIONS INCLUDE GEOLOGIST, DEAN OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, VICE PRESIDENT OF ACADEMIC AFFAIRS, FUTURIST, AND INNOVATIVE MOJO COACH. CURRENTLY, ELISA IS AN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT REGIS UNIVERSITY. SHE HOLDS A MASTERS DEGREE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA, AND A PH.D. FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO, BOULDER. HER MOST CURRENT WRITINGS CAN BE FOUND AT: