Brain Babies: Speed Bumps

I recently asked a friend, who is also a children’s librarian who reviews kids’ books, to read my recent novella. She did and declined to review it. The reasons she gave were many, including some fairly harsh criticisms about the content of the book.

Now, I’m a writer. I’ve been rejected over 500 times. I’ve had people tell me I should be ashamed of something I wrote. I’ve been called names, been told I was sick, garnered one-star reviews. So, I’m pretty thick-skinned.

However, this one stung. The book had gotten such a hugely positive response up to then. I, personally, had sold over $400 worth of them (along with my two story collections) in a month! Five 5-star reviews on Amazon! Huge praise from friends who’d read it! I was flying high.

Then, this incredibly bright, insightful person came along and told me all the flaws she saw in the book. Paragraphs of them. Ouch.

This led to me picking up the sequel, a thing I’d been working on daily with glee and determination, and staring at the page, unable to write. My enthusiasm had stopped cold. I entertained the notion that I would be unable to finish this book. That I wasn’t any good at this anymore. That I might never write again.

Three days later, I still haven’t worked on that project. It nettles me. I’ll get back to it. I know I will. But not yet. The slap I felt from her words is still burning on my face.

However, yesterday, I was chatting, via text, with my older brother. He sent me several pictures from an old yearbook: his 8th grade and my 6th. There was one shot where we were together (highly unusual) and we talked about the play we were both in (my very first of many), “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” I played a member of the jury of the damned and a little kid in a party scene. I had a line in the latter scene I remember to this day: “Layer cake! Layer cake!” He suggested that moment may have been the germination of my horror-writing career, and that I should write a story about it.

So, I did. I opened a doc (usually, I write fiction by hand, but, once in a while, I bust out the keyboard for one-off projects) and hammered out 1276 words all at once. Good words. Narrative flow. Characters who felt real. A nice, Twilight Zone ending. I was happy with it. I sent it to him, and he suggested I might do an entire book like that. I think I might.

So, if you’re having one of those moments, where you get a lousy reaction to your work, or you just feel like it’s all so damn pointless, just remember this: writing can be fun. The process of creation can be amazing and gratifying. The reason we do this, or at least the reason I do, is because we have stories to tell. We want to share them with the world.

So, while I’m still feeling that slap, just a little, I know I’m not terrible at this writing thing. I’m still having a blast telling stories, and, for the most part, people seem to want to read them. Other people seem willing to pay me for them. Not sure how I got here. Glad I am though.

Hope you all have someone or something in your life that inspires you to write. Some path through the murky swamp of self-doubt and frustration. If not, you can always pull yourself out of it. This is harder but it can be done.

Keep writing. Keep having fun with it. When you put yourself out there, you run the risk of getting hurt. Do it anyway. The hurt heals and you’ll be stronger for it.

Thanks for listening.

Ken MacGregor

Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in a whole mess of anthologies and magazines. His story collection, “An Aberrant Mind” is available online and in select bookstores. He edits an annual horror-themed anthology for the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. Ken is an Affiliate member of HWA. One time, he even made a zombie movie. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two cats, one of whom is dead but still haunts the place.

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