Started as a lame image for ego...but came from an interesting post on Martha Stewart's pet blog of all places. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Sigmund Freud Collection)

I have claimed, many times, that I am egoless with regards to critical feedback on stories, and this is true. But there are caveats. I mean, I don’t enjoy a critical drubbing. And I always expect one, so chances are that I will be either pleasantly surprised or outright pleased when it goes better than anticipated. I think of this as a form of pragmatic pessimism, the same kind that should be applied to budgeting situations: Plan for the worst! Enjoy the middling.

My first workshop as an MFA student was traumatic because I turned in a bad story. The thing that made me feel sick after it was all over (and the thing I dwelled on after I dragged myself back to work, to attend, of all things, a crisis-level budget meeting) was the knowledge that the story wasn’t ready, that I had wasted everyone’s time. Ever since then, I’ve tried to turn things in that had at least one full revision. I don’t usually hate something that I’ve revised at least once, which means that if it’s critically savaged, I can hang onto the couple things I thought were OK, shrug off the feedback of those who didn’t understand what I was trying to do, and absorb the observations of those who seem to get the project’s goals. The latter is what I return to when it’s time for another revision.

Early in my career – from 20 to 24 – I worked for a woman who was (is) really invested in the written word. Her standards were high, and it took me a long time to learn how to make her happy. At first, I felt like shit getting articles back that had been eviscerated with a red pen, but over time I got numb. And then I got better, and the articles started coming back with less and less red. But by that time, I had stopped taking it personally. I learned to leave the ego behind. I mean, I’m not an idiot: I could see that the articles were better when she was finished editing them. Every writer needs editing.

And that has served me really well in fiction workshops.


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