Turning Whine into Gold
Continuing to mine Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements for wisdom applicable to writers, we come to number two—and it’s a doozy.
Don’t take anything personally.
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
This second agreement allows both writer and critic such incredible freedom. Let me count the ways.
1. Following your dream.
As an aspiring writer you may be criticized from the get-go. Cynics disguised as family members, best friends, bosses, and even writing partners might say you are wasting your time. The odds are against you. You will pour more money into this endeavor than you will ever make back. It takes years to hone that kind of craft and what if you never make it? You are a fool.
It’s hard to hear such invalidating comments from the people you love. But listen again, through the filter of the second agreement. What are your loved ones saying about themselves? They are saying that they are afraid for you. That they fear the loss of your time and attention. That if you turn away from your dream, they can be released from their own striving.
By adopting the second agreement you can allow them to deal with their fears on their own. They cannot stop you, because you are untouchable.
2. Receiving critiques.
I was once in a critique group with a man who said he was “correcting” my manuscript. One man in an esteemed and expensive workshop wrote off my first manuscript as a “chick book” (yes, it was women’s fiction). One reader said I should rewrite my story because they didn’t like first person. These opinions were not helpful; it is not why I sought critique.
The second agreement suggests these advance readers were simply telling me things about them—that one thought of himself as a teacher, another as a manly man, another as a reader who prefers third person. Does this mean we have cart blanche to ignore our critiquers? Absolutely not.
But adopting the second agreement does help you translate usable critique. When a beta reader recently told me that seven pages of backstory weren’t needed, I heard her say, “For me, you have not yet made these pages relevant.” Rather than delete pages I knew were crucial, I instead honored her feedback and rewrote, deepening their connection to the overall story. When my agent read the revised section, it was one of her favorite parts.
By adopting the second agreement you can act on the feedback that you deem useful. Discard the rest, because you are untouchable.
3. Seeking an agent.
Some of you may know by now that I have rejected the word “rejection.” It is such a harsh, judgmental term—how does it help you to go through life feeling multiply rejected?
I prefer “misalignment,” a choice empowered by the second agreement. When 112 agents said “no thanks” to my manuscript, they were not judging my work as unworthy; they were telling me that at this time they were not the right agent for my work. Now I am not emotionless. The eight-year length of the search was at times discouraging, even though I continued to improve the manuscript. But why would I want to hire an agent to sell my work if they didn’t know how to develop or champion it? Each “no thanks” indicated a misalignment between my project and that agent.
By adopting the second agreement you can continue on until you find the agent with whom you are perfectly aligned. The others cannot hurt you, because you are untouchable.
4. Surviving reviews.
We humans love the arts because we get to know each other, and ourselves, through discussing them—whether that’s on a date, during book club, or by writing reviews. Indisputably, we writers will all receive both good and bad reviews of our work. We want this debate—it’s so much worse if your work is roundly ignored. But if you are going to discount the bad reviews as personal opinion, you must discount the good reviews as the same. You haven’t changed just because your work was reviewed—you are still a working writer doing the best job that you can.
By adopting the second agreement you allow your readers to decide whether or not they connect with your work without disparaging you. If an attack sounds personal, it is because that reviewer is the type of person who can only gain personal power by trying to steal yours.
Let them try. They cannot hurt you, because you are untouchable.
In what other areas of a writer’s life might the second agreement come in handy? Have you struggled with damage caused by the opinions of others? Let’s talk in the comments.
*To celebrate the new WITS website, Kathryn will be giving one lucky commenter a copy of The Four Agreements!
Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy, due May 2015. Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Although a member of The Liars Club, she swears that everything in this bio is true.
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