by Jennie Jarvis
As a writer, I’ve had a lot of teachers guide me on my journey to get all those pesky stories out of my head and onto the page. Some of them guided me in a classroom, such as Hal Ackerman and Dr. Lee Beger, teaching me in the traditional manner – teacher in the front of the room, me in a desk (usually the front row). A few of them, such as Dawn Frederick and Veronica Roth, were simply presenting at writing conferences, and I happened to be fortunate enough to be in attendance. Others, however, I never met. Through books they wrote, I glimpsed a bit of their wisdom – Syd Field, Black Snyder, Robert Olen Butler, Stephen King and so many more. All of these teachers were all pieces of the same puzzle – shaping me into the larger picture of me as writer.
Of all these teachers, however, there is one whose lesson struck me so deeply that I remind myself of her wisdom each day. This amazing mentor is Brighde Mullins, currently a Professor at USC.
I had the honor of working with Brighde while at Queens University of Charlotte’s low residence MFA Creative Writing Program. Since most of the coursework is completed online, and we are only required to be on campus two weeks of the year, the Program is able to hire some amazing faculty who are at the top of their industries. For me, this meant I got to work with Brighde on the screenplay I was completing for my master’s thesis.
While Brighde gave me a ton of compelling notes on my script, the real wisdom that stuck with me came in a workshop she taught to the entire program on teaching writing. During this workshop, she said that our students will be receive a lot of harsh criticism and rejection during their time in the industry, and so we don’t need to be too mean or tough when giving criticism. While we want our students to get better and grow, our primary job as educators is to keep our students writing.
It was a single comment in a lengthy workshop, but it resonated with me more than I thought possible – and not just in how I interact with my students.
Before hearing this comment, I approached my writing group in a very different manner. I believed it was my job to take my fellow writers’ work and “tear it apart.” That was how I could make them better, right? And their job was to tear my work apart too. Wasn’t that how it worked?
But afterwards, I realized the dire importance of supporting my fellow writers’ creative growth – and that means supporting their souls as well as their writing. While this means helping their work get better, it also means encouraging their soul as well. This was a huge turning point for me because once I started realizing I needed to encourage my fellow writers, it allowed me to see that I needed to be kinder to myself as well.
For years, if I didn’t meet my writing goals, I would beat myself up. I would feel guilty for not writing each day, or I would tell myself that I was awful if a literary magazine rejected my work. When I didn’t place as a semi-finalist in a competition, I would feel nothing but depression, and if I got less-than-stellar feedback on a work in progress, I would sometimes quit the work all together. And if I went through a dry spell, I would consider quitting writing all together.
As a writing artist, I have come to accept the fact that I’m a sensitive person. Even though I have a very confident front, when someone doesn’t like my work, a small piece of me dies. And after hearing Brighde say that the most important thing is to make sure that writers keep writing, I realized how important it was for me to safeguard my own future writing as well.
Since this time, I’ve practiced a lot more self-care. I go on Artist Dates. I schedule writing time and safeguard it from anything else life might throw my way. When I enter a contest, I exercise the “submit it and forget it” rule instead of constantly checking the contest website for results. I read. I read. I read some more.
And while I may not produce the same volume of work that I used to produce when I beat myself up, the work that I am able to complete is a much higher quality. The kinder I am to myself, the more the muses seem to respond with better ideas.
So while I have been inspired by many writers over the years, I am truly the most grateful for the wisdom I received from Brighde since it has allowed me to keep writing.
How do you keep yourself writing?