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What Other Girls Do

traditional showing off of ring

traditional showing off of ring

I got the news over the phone before lunch. I clutched the edge of my desk to keep from leaping to my feet and jumping up and down. My coworker, S., looked across her desk at me. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“I was just accepted into the Peace Corps,” I said. “I’m going to Bulgaria!” I spun my chair back and forth. Twenty minutes until lunch. I could scream then.

S. looked at me. “The what? Where?”

We worked in the back office of a bank. My job was to review spreadsheets and find the mistakes tellers made before the customer did. “I’m going to be a Peace Corps volunteer. In Bulgaria. Teaching English.”

My supervisor looked up from her desk. “What are you doing?”

I repeated myself. In a few minutes all the women in our department were staring at me. Most of them said about the same thing, “Oh. Um, really? For two years. Well, yeah, that’s great.” Someone asked if Bulgaria was in South America. Someone else asked why Belgium needed English teachers. Someone else asked if I would have to eat snake.

A girl from the department next to ours came bounding into the office. She waved her hand around. “I’m engaged!” she shouted.

The women around me all squealed. They crowded around her to see the ring. “Congratulations,” they said. “Tell us everything.”

When you put your work out into the world, some people will be with you and some won’t. Bulgaria was a great experience even if plenty of people said, “Oh, I’d never do anything like that.” Or “I wish I could do that.” Or “Why?”

Why is it so scary if someone doesn’t like what you write? It is entirely possible that I will sell no art at the festival and that I will never get published. What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like I’ll give up and watch TV. What would make you change your mind and decide writing is something you shouldn’t do?

If you get nervous about sharing your work, who inspires you to keep going? What keeps you from giving up? If you don’t get nervous about sharing your work, why the hell not? What’s your secret?

10 thoughts on “What Other Girls Do

  1. I’ve had SO many experiences like the one described here. So. Many. And why do I have so many? Because I keep doing them even when other people raise their eyebrows in uncertainty and misunderstanding.

    And all my friends have had the crowd of fawning women over their rings.

    I prefer the former. Just as I like writing and will always do it, read or not.

  2. I laughed out loud at If you don’t get nervous about sharing your work, why the hell not?

    I get nervous sharing my work. What helps is if I find anyone who appreciates it. Then if other people don’t like it I can be more reasonable about differing tastes.

  3. Well, I just wrote a 500-word essay to answer a lot of these questions, then deleted it. (It was just too long to clog up somebody else’s comments pipeline with.)

    Bottom line is that although I’m confident while writing, I get butterflies at the moment of sharing. Sharing with strangers is REALLY scary, while sharing only with people who know me (and my writing) is only slightly scary, can actually be quite pleasant, but also is highly suspect — not a good way to get feedback, no matter how objective you know they’re trying to be (or actually being, for that matter).

    No idea at all, really, about what keeps me from giving up.

    Having published some books already helps not at all, since they were so far away from what I want to publish that I stopped writing altogether for about five years (and was very, very surprised when I started again). I might as well not have written them at all. They are, in effect, someone else’s books. (Someone embarrassingly unassertive, I’ll add.)

  4. I quit. For now, anyway. I suddenly realized how very tired I am, and that was why the words weren’t flowing.

    I don’t get that nervous about showing my work anymore. Why the hell not? Not sure. Maybe because I’ve been knocked around by the best of them, so nothing scares me. Maybe because I finally figured out my writing is not awful most of the time, my insecurity comes from within. Maybe because I just don’t care anymore. Dunno.

    Now, If I were to take up a new artistic hobby, I might be nervous showing people that work because it’s new territory. A little nervousness energizes creativity, I think.

  5. Love this post. It made me smile because I understand you completely. Although, I’m fortunate that I had a lot of supportive people around me when I got word I was going to Japan. (And I was also accepted into the Peace Corps, but I couldn’t take off in the two week notice they gave me. Plus I decided it wasn’t for me.)

    Although I think I’ll always write, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about it, and there is part of me that thinks writing might not be what I’m meant to do. What is making me change my mind is that my eyes are opening wider to the difficulties of getting published and also my own writing…it’s just not up to snuff. At least right now. I actually feel better about relaxing about writing and not pushing myself. Whatever I write from now on, I really want to love it and love the process of writing too.

    Not saying I’m giving up…just changing perspective and being okay if it doesn’t happen for me.

    BTW, I told you I wasn’t going to volunteer at the HAWC conference this year, but I am after all! Hubby is very supportive about staying home with the little one, so I couldn’t pass it up.

  6. Thanks for this story- I remember similar moments (and similar jobs!!!).

    I don’t know if I would ever decide that writing isn’t something I *shouldn’t* do, though I might decide that a certain form of writing isn’t for me and if that were the case, I’d look for another form. For instance, I’m a lousy copywriter, and I really hate writing book reviews, but I’m happy writing essays and poetry and novels. I can’t imagine ever totally giving writing up, because I struggled for so many years to *own* my love of writing and my identity as a writer. Nowadays my writing identity is simply stronger than any criticism or rejection I might receive.

    I think, like JES said, that having published some, helps. Also, piling up rejections for the last 25+ years, mixed in with acceptances, helps me stay more detached about it all. Essentially, my love of writing and whether or not it’s published are two different things. Though I do stay cognizant of market forces, since being published is pretty damn cool, the writing itself is ultimately what matters most.

    I did get a huge boost recently. An agent who requested my manuscript said no thanks, for various reasons I agreed with, mostly to do with marketing and positioning. But then she added that she wants to see my next novel, because I’m a very good writer. One short sentence, but ti will keep me going for a long time, because a) she’s a professional I respect and b) she didn’t have to add that part, so she must have meant it.

  7. D’Arcy, when I did finally get a ring, I had no one to fawn. Well, one person fawned. But I wasn’t the sort to go shouting about it anyway.

    fairyhedgehog, ah yes–that person who appreciates the work. An elusive person some days.

    JES, I find sharing with people who know me scarier. I guess I feel I’ve got more to lose. This is probably why I don’t have my husband read my work.

    sherri, what do you mean quit? Like quit submitting? Quit writing? Quit sharing?

    shelli, I don’t know if it is what you’re meant to do or not. But how do you know if something is what you’re meant to do? How do you know self-doubt isn’t getting in the way? You’ve got to follow your call one way or the other.

    Sarah, I wish I had something published. Sure, I’d like to say I’m above that kind of thinking and longing and that I could say I believe in myself without this outside validation, but that wouldn’t be true. I’ll keep trying and writing because I don’t know what else to do, but knowing I’d been published somewhere, once in a while would help. Mostly I try not to think too much about the possibility that publication may not happen, and that this failure wouldn’t have to mean my writing is bad. It may mean that those market forces are just not flowing in my direction.

  8. Marta-

    I totally empathize. I imagine I’m a bit older than you (49) so I’ve had more time to work on getting published. I also started out very small, only wote non-fiction. I’ve published many essays and articles, but I didn’t publish my first non-fiction book until I was 43. Now, with fiction, it’s a whole new game. With non-fiction, you can start small and build your way up to larger markets, gaining skills and confidence along the way. With fiction, I’m not sure there is such a clear path. But I think that if I were starting out again, only with fiction this time, I’d be looking for online markets that want short stories, even if they don’t pay. Just to get the practice of knowing my work was out there being read. Would that work for you? (one of the first essays I published online was for http://www.moondance.org. I see they also do fiction…)

  9. Sarah, I’m a little bot younger–I’m 40. All the same, I feel that pressure of time is a-wasting. Never going to be a hip young thing of course. Thanks for the link and I’ll check it out. But I’ve written several novels (in varying degrees of completeness) but almost no short stories and I’m doubtful of my skill, like I’d be starting from scratch even though I’ve done all this work. Frustrating. Oh well. We keep going!

  10. Hi again – I finally remembered to come back and check your response! Yes, I have considered that it’s just self-doubt. But I am feeling less and less the call too. In some ways, I’m drawn more to photography. However, I don’t think writing is going away for me. I think it’s just break time. One of these days I’ll get the urge to write something, and that’ll be it.

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