I have been told that when it comes to writing, I am very cocky about my abilities. Here are my thoughts on that…
I might be.
I don’t think I’m cocky. I think there is a difference between being cocky, and just knowing when you’re good at something. As a woman, a queer, black woman at that, I don’t believe in apologizing for having specific set of skills. I’m not going to downplay how good I am at something because it keeps other people from feeling bad about their own skills. If someone is mad about me being good at something, then my advice to them is to get better.
I realize when people ask me about my writing, they’re expecting me to go “I’m okay…” or “I wrote this. It isn’t that great, but would you read it anyways?” And omg, no. I’m not going to do that, and it kills me to see other women doing it too. Not only does it force a negative opinion on your work before someone has a chance to develop their own, it also makes you look insecure.
My writing is one of the few things I am super proud of. So, when I talk about it, I don’t hide that I’m good at what I do. It’s literally the first thing I list about myself when people ask me what I excel at. Of course, people are free to disagree. I welcome that. Opinions are dope, and mine is that when I put two words together to make a sentence, it sounds good.
A couple days ago, in my fiction writing class, my professor called me up to talk to me about a piece I submitted. He praised it. This was a bit of a shock to me because, despite being a really chill guy, he tends to mostly focus on all the things people did wrong in their pieces (which is what the class is for, don’t get me wrong.) I had gone to class that day, sword in hand, prepared to defend my creative choices to the death. Instead, he went into detail about everything he liked, about how I brought the characters to life, about the style of the writing, and the setting, and all the subtle world building I included. Then he asked me about my process, and how long I had been working on this story. The piece is a part of a series of short stories I have been working on for about a year. However, the 13-pages I submitted were written specifically for his class.
I’m not going to lie, it felt GREAT to be praised, especially so publicly. I know how hard I worked on that piece and being told I did a good job made it feel like more than just a grade. After our discussion, he spent a portion of the next two classes going over details he thought were “cinematic”, my use of syntax, and doing a general analysis of what the piece is. I didn’t feel weird about him using my piece as an example of what to do right until he said, “I don’t want anyone to feel jealous. This should be an inspiration.” And then my gut twisted.
I became very aware that everyone was dead silent in that moment. Even though I am in college, it felt like I was going to get my ass kicked as soon as we let out. No one kicked my ass after class, but now barely anyone talks to me, which I feel is an “adult ass beating”.
When I talked about this to some of my friends, I was told that I was somehow wrong for allowing my piece to be praised in front of the whole class. They spoke about it as though it was an obscene show me getting my ego stroked in front of everyone. Oh, the indecency, am I right?
Here’s the thing. I don’t know what other people do to improve their writing, so I can’t speak to it. I only know what I do. For ten years, I have taken steps to make sure I practice and improve. Recently for example, for practice, my friend Val and I have attempted to do a weekly 3k, where we give each other at least 6 or so pages of writing to read. I admit, I don’t always take practice seriously. Sometimes I put zero effort into my writing, but practice is practice.
Why should I feel bad for it paying off? (and quite frankly, I feel like if it was a dude who was praised in front of the class, this would have been fine.)
I understand that it might hurt a whole lot to see someone doing well when you are trying your best. I have been there. I have been extremely salty about other people’s accomplishments. It didn’t get me anywhere.
At the same time, my apologizing isn’t going to help anyone. No one is going to magically get better at writing because I said sorry. I spent a little while agonizing about this and feeling awful, but in the wise words of Val, “So what?” We’re in a class to learn.
Everything takes practice. You’re not a victim of someone else’s success. I don’t owe anyone jack. If that makes me cocky, then so be it.
Git Gud, bro.