Someone told me off recently. Big time. I think I mostly deserved it. It brought to mind two things writers would do well to think about.
The first is image. We have a mental image of ourselves: how we look, our behavior, how we sound, what other people notice about us. Very often we’re wrong. We tend to think of ourselves as better than we are, more generous, justified in our rage, and that our drama matters.
Truth? No. one. cares.
You may be a consummate professional, always polite and well-coiffed and perfectly groomed all day long, always doing and saying the right thing. I’m not you. I’m a creative person and very loosey-goosey and will never be a tight, buttoned-up corporate type. Neither can you do what I do, or be me.
That doesn’t mean I can’t think of you with respect and treat you accordingly, whether you are my brother, my sister, my boyfriend, my girlfriend, my boss or the person who bags my groceries. It doesn’t mean that if you are disrespectful to me that I owe you a harsh word, either.
In the Internet age, everything you write and say in interviews and video of you and things people say about you are out there forever. People who don’t know you will be buying your books, your art or seeing movies you wrote or acted in. They will base their opinion of you on whether they like your work, but also on what other people are saying about you.
That leads me to the second, insight, and the title of this post. We know when we’ve done wrong. We should, anyway. I think today a lot of people have forgotten what shame feels like. It’s a nasty feeling to think that you are not the kind of person you thought, or that others don’t like you. It’s easy to take that and run have a pity party with it, but that’s not productive, nor is it correct.
A mistake is a learning opportunity. How did it happen? Why is someone angry with you? Did you act without thinking? What we do affects others, and we don’t always realize that right away, but the reaction we get can tell us much.
I accidentally cut someone off in traffic one day and waved a big “Sorry” at them. They still honked and flipped me the bird. Fine, if you feel that way. I didn’t mean to. But if ticking you off made me more aware of my lane changes, then I’ve learned something.
If someone tells me something about myself that I need to hear, it might make me feel like the ass end of a snapping turtle. Can I grow from it? HELL YES. If I allow it.
Writers deal with rejection and criticism all the time. I could easily take my rejections personally and never submit or query again. Will I be a writer this way? Yes, but never a paid one. If I analyze my mistakes and see where I went wrong, my next query or article or book will be better. If I’m rejected because of my attitude, then I only have myself to blame and I’ll never make it. Same in life; who’s going to want to spend five minutes with me if I’m a complete bitch?
You can’t control what other people do. You can control your temper—if you choose to—and you can control what you let yourself take from rejections, mistakes and your own choices.
If you have a poor image, writer or not, maybe it’s time to get to work on it. You won’t have to worry about hiding anything if you clean up your mess and what’s more, if you own it.
My friend David said on Facebook, “I follow the 80/20 rule. If eighty percent of the time you’re a sweetheart, then who cares about the twenty percent when you’re less than perfect? But if the eighty percent is cranky/bitter, then time to shop for new friends.”
My reply? “If you are an eighty-percenter, time to get your head out yer ass!” Or time to take my own advice.