Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writing: It Ain't for the Faint of Heart, That's For Sure

When "Anonymous" first asked about insecurities we've faced as writers, nothing (and I mean n-o-t-h-i-n-g) was immediately springing to mind. I mean, surely I've faced some trials along the way (besides a handful of those obligatory rejection letters), right?

Why yes, I have, and I've done such a great job of blocking those painful moments out that I almost forgot they ever existed.


Thankfully, a quick jaunt back in time quickly brought all those emotions back to the surface, and I realized yet again how important those difficult moments were in shaping the writer I am today.

Back when I was in college, I never had any doubts about my chosen major: journalism. Unlike my friends who switched majors as often as their hair color, I knew I was destined for writing greatness and never worried about "if" it would happen. It was simply a matter of "when."

But my confidence took a major beating on the last day of my summer internship at a medium-sized market newspaper. See, my junior year was almost a wrap when I found out the editors of that aforementioned newspaper were interested in having me work as a reporter—with actual beats and everything. To say I was delighted about this development was a major understatement. Instead of simply getting the coffee for my co-workers, I'd be out on the frontlines, getting the big scoops like I'd always dreamed about. And I could hardly wait for all the fun—and hard work—to begin.

So for the next four-ish months, whether I was sitting at a school board meeting (not exactly the most exhilarating of tasks, but we all have to start somewhere, right?) or high-tailing it to the police station to see if any major crimes had been committed the night before (there never were), I was loving every moment of the newspaper life. I was 21 and conquering the world of journalism. Or so I thought...

Even though I had 72 stories published that summer (and seeing my byline in print was something I loved, loved, loved), my editor had some rather sobering words for me once the summer ended. Basically, he told me I didn't have "what it takes" to be an honest-to-goodness newspaper reporter—and even said I was "too nice" to be taken seriously. As for alternative career suggestions, he really had none. "Maybe writing for a magazine," he said. "Maybe."

As you can imagine, I was completely deflated. Somehow, and I'm still not sure how, I was able to hold back my tears in front of the editor in question. Well, until I got to my car anyway and proceeded to bawl my eyes out. Truth be told, I was crushed. Here, I'd poured myself into my work to the tune of 60 hours per week, and I didn't have what it takes? What more could he have possibly wanted? Was it me, my writing or both? To add insult to injury, my editor gave me a "C" for my internship, and I'd never gotten a "C" in any of my journalism classes before. There goes my GPA...

Suddenly, I wasn't quite so excited about my upcoming senior year. I'd failed, and I had no future as a newspaper reporter, so now what? Well, I had to move on, but to what?

Through a few rounds of self-analysis and a successful "Pro and Con" list, the way I solve many of life's mysteries, I knew that I still really loved writing about people, so perhaps magazine writing was a better avenue for that. Yes, yes, that's it. Future career crisis averted: I was destined to write for magazines.

Not quite. Turns out that just as I was getting excited about working for some glossy publication, my class advisor also questioned my future potential as a journalist. While I don't remember his exact words, I sure remembered the sentiment—and those painful words were another huge stab to my spirit. In fact, I remember crying in the middle of an aisle at Cub Foods later that night. Not even Ben or Jerry could rescue me from my despair.

With so many credits in my chosen field, I wasn't about to switch majors, so I tried to remain optimistic and prayed. A LOT. In fact, I'm pretty sure that God was sick of hearing about my silly plight, but I kept right on telling Him about it. Again and again and again.

As I continued working as a columnist and editor for my campus newspaper during my senior year, I still couldn't shake my love of writing no matter how hard I tried. And since God hadn't given me a new passion, (I was hoping for some direction in skywriting if possible), I decided to keep on pursuing what I loved, no matter what the naysayers said. I knew this was what I wanted to do, what I'd been gifted at, so I pressed forward, even though the fear was all-consuming at times.

Since you know the rest of my story from my earlier, introductory post, I'm so glad that I did. Being a writer has really been a dream come true, and I always promised myself that I'd be an encouragement (unlike those certain editors) to anyone who wanted to do the same. And that's precisely what I hope I'm doing with this post.

As writers, there will always be people telling you that you aren't good enough. In our field, disappointment and rejection are inevitable (just ask any author worth his/her salt). But if you love writing and are willing to work at your craft, you simply must do it however you can. It may not be your full-time job, but it'll always be worth pursuing and investing in.


  1. I've had lots of negative comments on my writing lately. Seems like that happens every time I receive affirmation from God that this is what I am to be doing. The naysayers creep their little ugly heads into my life, making me doubt whether or not I have what it takes ...

    Maybe I do. Maybe I don't. I suppose that's not up for me to decide. I just decide whether or not to obey God's calling. And let Him take care of the details.

    Thanks for this post. I loved it!


  2. Thanks so much, Brenda, that means a lot...stay encouraged, my friend. :)

  3. Great post, Christa. I love learning more about the writing plight of each of you girls. I personally, haven't faced a whole lot of rejection yet, but that's just because I'm so afraid of it that I haven't put myself out there. As I start to package up my few short stories and poems for submission this month, I'll be taking your words to heart and keeping them in mind. I'm glad they'll still be here when I need them.

  4. Great post, Christa. Were you tempted to mail a copy of your first book to those early dream squashers?

  5. Thanks for your encouraging words, ladies. :) Can't wait to see what becomes of your poems and short stories, Christiana. And Evangeline, I was very, very tempted to send them one but thought that might not be too classy. :) But oh how I wanted to...ha ha. :)

  6. Christa - This was a beautiful post. I think we can all relate. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. well put! and it is so true. thick skin & a lot of hard work!!!!

  8. Thanks BJ and Elizabeth!!! :) You rocketh!

  9. Wow, your story could've been my story - except I was told I was a crappy teacher. I was halfway through my Final Internship when my advisor sat me down and told me that I wouldn't pass the internship. Supreme letdown and that's when I realized teaching wasn't something I wanted to do. So, even though I was THIS CLOSE to graduating, I switched majors. And I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from my classes so I'm thinking this was a good switch.

  10. It sounds like it was a good switch, Stephany. Glad I'm not the only one who's gone through this. :)