Risk-taking & Art: Not everyone thinks your baby is beautiful

The baby who is beautiful to you might not be beautiful to everyone else.

You take a risk when you share your art with others. It’s wearing your heart on your sleeve. It’s like putting your baby on display. It’s not safe.

How much are you willing to risk to grow in your art? I’m not talking about money, but transparency. Vulnerability.

Last time, interior designer Kaysie Strickland said:

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To me, the nerves are just part of the creative process.
It proves to me that I’m being vulnerable —
and I think my best work is done
when I really pour my soul into something.
Creativity is a risk.
It’s opening yourself up to the world
in hopes that they find it beautiful.
–Kaysie Strickland

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If what I create doesn’t resonate with others, is it a failure?

Do the numbers matter? Does everyone have to love it? Or just one other soul?

I would say NO to all these questions. Art can be self-expression. It doesn’t even have to be shared. And that doesn’t make it any less important. Because it’s yours.

But for those who believe they have something to offer and want others to benefit from it, there’s risk involved.

Allow me to share part of my writing journey as an example.

I’ve loved writing all my life. My teachers praised me over the years. I won an award for an essay in 8th grade and another one for a short story in college.

But I really wanted to write a novel. I’d already started one, inspired by the short story. Not just for myself, but for others to (hopefully) immerse themselves in. So I had to perfect my craft. But first I had to see if I had what it takes.

I attended my first writers conference and submitted my pages for critique.

This was going to be my defining moment,
determining my future course.
Was I going to write for others?
Or just relegate my writing to journals,
poems, and stories
for an audience of one? Myself.

Fortunately, my story chapter was well received. I felt encouraged to keep writing. I joined a writers group that spawned from the conference. We met twice a month to critique each other’s work.

That was a huge hurdle. At every meeting, I was putting myself out there. I felt like a target for poison arrows. Knowing what was coming, I’d sweat; my heart palpitated. We weren’t there to merely pat each other’s backs. We were brutally honest with our assessments.

But that was the most valuable part. That’s what made us go back to our computers and revise.

The most growth as writers occurred in the stretching.
And the stretching was painful.

We met for 15 years. During that time, the first draft of my story, All That Is Hidden, was born. And the second draft. Plus another novel.

I toughened up. I got to the point where I could
accept constructive criticism without wincing,
defending every word choice, or going home to cry.

I learned to take criticism like–pardon the cliche–water off a duck’s back.

My fellow writers were invaluable, but I needed professional feedback. Very scary. I chose one of the conference teachers. I sent off my story with a check.

But what if she didn’t like what I’d poured my heart and soul into?

The response was discouraging. My story wasn’t organized well. My character motivation wasn’t clear. The plot was riddled with inconsistencies.

But I loved my story. And I’d already poured hours and hours into it! I mean 1000s of hours spreading over a decade. Written in my “spare time” during the child-raising years.

I would not be derailed. I revised, following her suggestions. I got additional feedback from my writers group. Things definitely improved. I sent the manuscript to an agent.

He said my story was more episodic in nature, with little plot. He suggested re-structuring it, and offered to review it again if I made changes.

Deflated, I followed his suggestions. Months later, I sent the story back. This time he asked, “Why are you writing an episodic novel? It doesn’t do justice to the strong plot.” Arrggghhhh!

If anyone ever tells you that writing assessments are objective, he’s lying.

Back to the drawing board. Actually, the writing desk. I revised again. Then I sent the umpteenth draft to a North Carolina English college professor and literary consultant to check the accuracy of cultural details and dialect.

He was immensely helpful and encouraging—and loved the story. Which is saying a lot, because he was born, raised, and lived in the area of my story’s setting.

VB on Visual Hunt

I made the novel as good as possible. I sent dozens of query letters to publishers and agents. Almost 100 over a couple of years. I got many requests for the manuscript or sample chapters.

That meant that I’d mastered the art of writing query letters! But no editor was willing to risk buying the manuscript of a no-name author.

However, I started receiving personal rejections with compliments instead of form letters, so I knew I was headed in the right direction. I actually obtained an agent but he was unable to find a publisher after six months when the contract ended. It’s difficult for first-time writers to break in.

Then I decided to self-publish (more on those pros and cons later). A few years after that, my book was picked up by Lighthouse Christian Publishing.

At that same time, I also won first place in a writing contest for the young adult (YA) novel I’d been working on: Summer People.

That’s still not the end of the story–no pun intended. But the point is: it’s scary to share something you’ve poured your heart into, especially at first.

But for me, the only thing that brought improvement
and eventual recognition
was going outside of my comfort zone.

That’s risky.

And the only thing that pushed me outside the comfort zone was my passion for sharing my story.

That was worth it.

And the more I did, the easier it got. It’s still scary, but I don’t panic anymore. Or lose sleep.

What do you fear about sharing your own creations? How have you overcome that?

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura


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10 thoughts on “Risk-taking & Art: Not everyone thinks your baby is beautiful

  1. What a journey! Honestly, your dedication, love for your story and your perseverance, along with your humble acceptance of critiques, is inspiring.
    Shoot. I’m feeling so inspired that I should maybe get off social media and pull up my current work-in-progress. (See how proficiently I used “author-speak” right there?)
    But hoping the next installment of your writing/publishing journey moves at a little faster pace. I’m ready for more books!

    1. So glad you feel inspired, Anita. That’s the main reason I’m sharing this writing journey and writing this blog. Whether people want to write, draw, play music, teach, cook, or run a business, I hope by reading this that they’ll be encouraged to pursue their interests, no matter the obstacles!

      Anyone want to share fears or roadblocks along the creative journey?

  2. I definitely had to go outside of my comfort zone in order to progress in my writing! I feel like every time I take a brave step forward I gain ten more!

  3. Laura, Your tenacity is quite commendable! Now I am truly intrigued with your novel. I have purchased it and it is in my queue! I can’t wait to read it! This blog entry brought back memories of my dissertation journey. There were so many suggestions, ideas, edits, etc. along the way. Many times I felt like giving up and saying, forget it! But I finally got to a point where I said, “I cannot try to please everybody or make it absolutely ‘perfect,'” whatever that means. After that realization I was able to write away and complete this great milestone. Thankfully, my wife, dissertation chair, and a couple of colleagues were constant sources of encouragement! Because of that experience I have been able to be a source of inspiration to a some colleagues who have have gone through or are going through the dissertation process. It was nice having great mentors, and it is equally rewarding being a mentor for others!

    1. Thanks for sharing about your dissertation, Brad. That’s an extra rough road when you have multiple people to please, like a committee, rather than just one. And when you having conflicting feedback, who do you listen to? We absolutely can’t please everybody and will go crazy trying to! You have to sort the wheat from the chaff as far as advice goes. Congratulations on doing that and completing your dissertation! Truly an accomplishment!

  4. This is a huge part of reality for a writer who chooses to accept critique or risk putting it in front of professional eyes. This reminds me of college, and submitting my poetry to the literary magazine. I did not get in them, and seeing the poetry that did get in made me realize I wasn’t even close. It wasn’t that the poetry used better literary devices than I did, it was a matter of style. Poetry especially is always looking for something new, and criticizes past styles for being shallow or ineffective. My style would have fit very well in the late 19th century. Does that mean it is bad? Not necessarily. Does that mean that it wouldn’t speak to some readers out there? On the contrary, I think some people gravitate more toward older styles, because the new styles, while innovative, don’t speak to the masses. Think classical music. The most popular works of contemporary classical music are movie sound tracks, which I would classify as from the Romantic period.

    1. Interesting thoughts. Do you ever wonder sometimes if you were born into the wrong century? 🙂 Or, since fads go in cycles, maybe you are actually ahead of your time with your particular style of poetry. Either way, sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right vehicle for your voice. And finding that audience who is waiting to hear it.

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