After some good experiences with fiction workshops in the spring and summer, I decided to take another at the beginning of this month. Got a lot out of the sessions — updated a story I’d drafted, received constructive feedback from the instructor and most of the participants, and provided my own comments to other writers who appreciated my insights.
And then… there was this one reviewer. Who had nothing positive to say about my writing. Who was very creative in his sarcasm. Who underlined one sentence and wrote “Ridiculous” in the margin.
He reminded me of students I knew in graduate school. The ones who were brighter and more well-read than me, and went out of their way to remind me how ill-informed, illogical, and just plain laughable were my opinions. Didn’t matter the subject — literature, philosophy, religion, politics, relationships, sports, which restaurants to eat at, which route to take home.
I didn’t have a term for my experience at the time, but if I could have looked forward to today’s terminology I would say they did a very effective job of gaslighting me. They made an overwhelmingly convincing case that I didn’t know what I was talking about, so I might as well shut up.
The experience convinced me that I had no career in academia. After getting my degree, I knew it was time to move on. The abuse had become too much.
And judging by what’s happened to me in the quarter century since I left, I say I made the right decision. I’ve become more successful than I ever imagined myself being back in my graduate school days. I’m married to a creative and beautiful woman. My children are healthy and are on the cusp of starting their own careers. It’s been great.
And then, I decided to trust imagination, and start doing the only job I’ve ever wanted to do. A job which included writing my own fiction. Finish the novels I’d been working on, and revise the short stories I’d drafted. And until this latest workshop, I felt I was gathering momentum.
But now my writing is ridiculous.
My mind tells me to dismiss the comment, and focus on the positive responses. But that’s not how I feel.
I’ve been living a fantasy the past year and a half, reacting to a mid-life crisis. I’m thinking it’s time to face reality: this isn’t going to work out.
Tonight was the last session of the workshop, so I’m probably going to feel better in the morning. Give me a week, I’ll probably be back on schedule.
But before I make that turn, I wanted to get how I felt out of me. I might find these words absurd in the near future, but right now, I’m thinking it’s time to put this writing ambition of mine to rest.