On the Value of Encouragement

After having my story discussed at the workshop on July 10th, I left the workshop with a stack of copies of my story, each one of them marked with helpful comments. I made it halfway up Church Street before sitting underneath a streetlight and reading what my fellow writers so generously wrote for me.

The consensus: The story needs work. All my stories usually do. But the nice thing about these comments was the balance readers struck between what worked well and what worked less well.

This is a critical point for me, and for other writers in the workshop (I suspect). Now’s the time to decide: Given what people have said, is it worth putting more time into this piece?

writersnarcissism

Encouragement helps diminish the “self-loathing” part.

My desire to revise is a function of how good I’m feeling about myself and my abilities as a writer. If I think I’m capable, perhaps even a bit narcissistic, I’m more likely to revise a story until it actually does work. But if I’m stuck in one of my bouts of self-loathing and too busy hating myself for all the mistakes I made in the early drafts, I’d rather just clean my kitchen.

Right now, though, my kitchen’s a mess, and I’m writing.

That’s because I’ve received some very encouraging remarks on this new story. Lots of folks have told me it’s almost ready, it’s entertaining, it should end up in print. You have work to do, they said, but please do it, because the story inside this messy draft is worth cleaning up and sharing with the world.

I’m naturally skeptical of my own abilities—a classic imposter syndrome tendency—but because of the encouragement I’ve received, I feel inspired to revise this one.

For some of us, encouragement is the fuel that compels revisions. When self-doubt is all you have, one kind comment can be enough to keep you going.

I know that if the BWW writers who read my story had picked this apart without bringing up the strong parts, I would have given up on it. After all, if a workshop leads you to believe that what you’ve written is 100% garbage, then why continue? But if the workshop points out the 50% that works really well, then why not cut the half that doesn’t work and keep trying?

At our regular workshops, I make sure we talk about “what works well” before we talk about “what works less well.” When that guideline comes back around to help me, I’m reminded of how important it really is.

About Peter Biello

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered on New Hampshire Public Radio and a writer of short stories, novels, book reviews, and essays. He's also the host of The Bookshelf, a series of interviews with authors from or writing about the Granite State.
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One Response to On the Value of Encouragement

  1. WilderWasabi says:

    Nice principle to follow, putting what works well before what works less well. Love the wording of it. And a kind word can be a real healer, amid the slings and arrows…

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