I stopped watching American Idol because I grew tired of it and fell in love with The Voice. While I watched, however, I always wondered about the contestants that gave new meaning to the phrase 'tone deaf'. I'm sure some of it was staged but some of those people that absolutely should not have been trying out, really thought they might get through. Every time one of those contestants tried out, I wondered the same thing: "Doesn't anyone love them? Respect them? Don't they have one, just one, person in their lives that will tell them the truth?" The truth, for them, being that they can't sing; at all. Sure, it made for good T.V. but those people stood for hours in line ups, hopefully waiting for their chance to share their 'gift'. Even though it would not be easy to tell your friend, your co-worker, or family member that they should never sing, certaintly not on live television, it would help them more in the long run.
As the person who can't sing (this may turn out to be metaphorical), it's hard to hear the truth. I'm actually not sure if it's harder to hear it from the people that love or care for you or from complete strangers. Logically, you know that the ones who care for you have your best interests at heart. These are the same people that, if you can sing, will support and applaud you; the same people that will pick you up when you fall. If you can trust those people to help you up when you're down, then it's important to trust them when they're telling you what you don't want to hear.
Easier said than done, I know. How do I know? Because I'm lucky enough to have people in my life that would stop me from singing on live television. Or, in my case, people that will say that my writing needs work, could be stronger, or is missing something crucial. As artists, and I use this word to encompass whatever your craft may be, it's hard to hear that something we feel we've put our heart into is not received with adoration. However, we are attached to what we've produced in a way that others aren't and that is, ultimately, to our great benefit. Again, if you trust a small group of people to be there during the good times, you need to trust them during the hard times or 'in progress' times. These are the people that want you to go in front of the live audience and succeed. Sometimes, to do that, you have step back and strongly consider what they're trying to tell you.
This is how I approach my writing (and rewriting), even though it's difficult to know it's not coming out perfectly the first time. I want to be good at what I do and it's hard, for kids and adults alike, to realize that even when you are good at something, it takes a lot of effort to be more than good; to be great. Since I've started spending large chunks of my time writing, I have been reading about writing, editing, blogging, and publishing. It is amazing to me that I can have a degree in English, have been teaching for ten years, spend my days helping kids write, and have been writing personally for years, but still have so much to learn. This is why, I listen to those that know better or who aren't as close to the piece of writing as I am.
I feel profoundly grateful to have the people in my life that push me to be better. If you listen with an open mind, the words you hear will make you stronger, and in turn, make your work stronger. When I was having my first child, my mom told me to pick one person that I trust, really trust, and take their advice. She told me I'd be getting lots of advice from 'experts' and that can be very overwhelming. It was good advice, because whether someone had a child or not, they had ideas on what made for good parenting.
Choosing to do this for my writing was a good move as well.I can't listen to every good or bad piece of feedback I get because I think I'd get lost within it. So I chose people that I trust: my agent, my best friend, and a close work friend to really be honest with me. I trust them to ask me the hard questions, make me rethink my own thoughts, and push my writing to a new level. I take their suggestions to heart in hopes that it will make me a better writer because I know that's what they want for me. It's not always easy to hear that they don't love a certain twist that I thought was going to capture attention or that maybe they don't connect with the character the way I do, but by trusting them, I can re-evaluate and, in most cases, see their point of view. So far, trusting in them has made me much prouder are more certain of my final products.
Part of this willingness to accept feedback and critiques might stem from being a teacher. As a teacher, I constantly ask myself, what can I do better, how can I connect more, how can I make it more meaningful? These are the same questions I should be asking myself as a writer. Just like with parenting advice and my writing, I have a select group of colleagues that I trust to tell me 'hey, that's a really good idea' and know they mean it. If I trust them enough for that, however, I feel like I owe it to myself to trust them enough when they say, 'hey, if you try 'this', it might work out better'.
Truth and trust are important words. As a teacher, I want parents to trust that I have their child's best interest at heart. As a mom, I want my kids to trust that maybe, just maybe, I could be right about something. As a friend, I want my other friends to trust that I wouldn't say something looked great on them if it didn't and watch them buy it while biting my tongue. We have to learn to trust the people that we surround ourselves with and accept that sometimes they might have to give us some hard truths. In the end, these truths can make us stronger, better, and sometimes, even braver. If we know that they will tell us both the good and the bad, then we can rest easy, knowing they wouldn't let us sing on national television, unless we were really, really good and ready.