Back in October, I went to a local writers’ conference. During the conference, we were encouraged to meet with book agents to “pitch” a book idea.
But prior to that, there was a seminar in which the agents sat on stage and listened to excerpts of people’s manuscripts read aloud. A manuscript was read, and each agent was instructed to raise his or her hand when a point was reached in the reading where he lost interest in hearing the story.
Each author had a choice, of course, as to whether or not to participate in this activity. I chose not to submit my writing, because the idea of it scared the crap out of me. About 12 minutes into the seminar, I turned to the woman next to me, and I saw an intensity in her eyes that looked like anger and fear. I realized it was her manuscript that had just been read and criticized and dismantled by a bunch of book agents who didn’t know that this story was her creative BABY. They didn’t know it had been growing inside her brain for years, and they were strangers to the yearning that she’s had to get it out. They were just sitting up on stage, getting paid to say all the reasons they had NO interest in reading her writing.
Another woman was sitting on the opposite side of her. “It’s okay, they are just like that. Don’t take it personally,” she consoled her.
But I took it personally, AND IT WASN’T EVEN MY MANUSCRIPT. I wanted to stand up and say, “Oh, just stop being mean!!! This is her BABY. Her creative BABY. Please stop.”
But instead, I bit my tongue and walked out.
Later in the day, I was scheduled to give a pitch for my writing with an agent. After what I saw the book agents do to people’s manuscripts inside the pitch seminar session, I really was considering bolting out of there and running home to hide under my covers and eat chips and salsa.
I told the other writers there that I was 99.9% sure I was going to back out of the bitch–I mean, pitch.
“Oh don’t!” They all said. “It will be a good experience for you, no matter what happens.”
Me: Okay. 😐
So I went to the pitch session. I sat across from the book agent at a small desk, and started to tell her about my blog. As I began to speak, I could see her eyes bolting in another direction. Like, the thought instantly occurred to me that she was actually BORED, and I had barely spoken five sentences.
The best way I can portray what the experience was like to you, is to reinact the pitch session with my cat acting as the book agent. Because my cat and this book agent seem to be kindred spirits. So here goes:
The agent’s response:
My response to the agent’s response:
And then the agent, who, once again CLEARLY doesn’t give a sh*t.
Which finally caused me to go into my, “Oh my gosh , this is awkward” soliloquy, which I usually reserve for first dates:
So, yeah. That didn’t turn out so well. Not that it should have, because it’s pretty clear to me that a book deal with this publisher wasn’t in the cards.
But here’s the big thing, you guys: we are creative beings. We are born to create. You–yes, you! I believe that every single person on this planet was created TO create. And only YOU can figure out what that thing is you are supposed to create.
But here’s the terrible thing that sometimes happens: someone tells us somewhere along the way that something we created wasn’t good enough. (This happens frequently in childhood.) And that memory sticks like glue to our brains. And it seems like these memories are some of the most POWERFUL ones that affect our development into adulthood.
These memories are what cause us to stop creating. And it’s time for us to tell those memories to get the heck out of our heads because they aren’t paying rent to reside there anymore.
Brene Brown is a shame researcher, speaker, and one of my heroes. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she sums up what she’s learned about creativity:
“There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”
In an interview, Brene further expounds on the subject: “Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, and shame.”
Do you hear that? IT METASTASIZES. (And I know this to be true, because it is not uncommon for those who are not using their creativity to resent those who are.)
That is why, going back to my agent pitch story, it is important for us to be cautious about whose feedback we take seriously.
And you wanna know whose feedback I take seriously? It’s the people who are in the shared fight with me, getting their asses kicked everyday alongside of me. As my hero, Brene says, “If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
If you’re not fighting to protect the same things that I am, how can I know that your feedback is coming from a helpful place?
And feedback IS important from the RIGHT people. Feedback can be life changing from those who truly care.
So my wish is for everyone who has made the brave choice to create something to know this truth I’m about to share. And yes, I’m on a Brene Brown kick here folks, because if it weren’t for her research and writing, I wouldn’t know this truth, which lies in a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, that was the impetus for her book, Daring Greatly.
It’s time to dare greatly. Will you join me in the arena?
We can leave our book agents and cats behind.