During my senior year of college, I took a literary theory course. For most of the semester, I experienced an existential crisis about the integrity and value of writing as a profession.
There’s a risk of losing hope and all sense of logic when taking a class that has English majors read about how Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an examination of consumerism and female psychopathy in the 19th century. Writing papers for this course most certainly was a trip down the rabbit’s hole, and that essentially explains how I feel about handling criticism.
In other words (or maybe in shamelessly superfluous words), writing and criticism is like falling through the rabbit’s hole. On the one side, there is a sense of excitement and curiosity and on the other side there is a fear of the unknown and of the outcome. The former, a side effect of wanting to be a world-renown writer one day; the latter, an irrational certainty that my writing, analytical, and creative skills are horrible, which translates into the inevitability of failure.
Want to read this story later? Save it in Journal.
I love writing because it is escapism and a chance to be part of creating something lasting and meaningful. As a professional writer, I appreciate constructive criticism because if I can just swallow my pride (read: hold my tongue) and listen, then I can grow. So, whenever I know that someone else will look at my work, I do my best to kick out my inner critic and the idea that another person’s opinion matters. Because when I am writing, all that matters is bleeding onto the page.
Well, okay, that is what I tell myself and I do stand by that point, but the truth is that it’s hard not to worry about what others will think, even as I write. I’m actually nervous now, as I write this.
Perhaps then, you’re wondering, if I worry about criticism as I write, am I actually experiencing any sort of escape?
Well . . .
Yes, unequivocally √.
Because whenever I create, everything else ceases to exist. Eventually, even my pesky worries and fears go away.
It took most of the semester for me to understand why literary theory and the writers who take the time to analyze these literary works matter. Having applied different theories, such as Marxist and Semiotics, to analyses of different literary works, I couldn’t help but wonder that if anyone can write whatever they want about x book or x idea and get published, then why bother writing at all? Then, it came time to select a book, any book I wanted, to analyze through the lenses of a literary theory, and I picked one of my favorite books since middle school, The Raging Quiet by Sheryl Jordan. This is a story that I have read over and over again throughout the years. I’ve yet to read it without savoring the experience. It’s about a young woman who befriends a young man who the townsfolk think to be possessed by the devil and how she is forced to stand a brutal trial for witchcraft. You can take a look at my copy of the book and know right away that it is well loved. I can’t remember which theory I used, but I do remember having one of those aha! moments.
By the time the class wrapped up, I felt a deeper appreciation for writing, literature, and theory. I came away with the comprehension that it’s not necessarily about accurate interpretations. It’s about trying to understand how the authors perceive the world and the people around them. Honestly, to this day, I still think that the article about how Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an examination of consumerism and female psychopathy in the 19th century is utter rubbish, and that’s okay. The author shared their understanding of how Carroll perceives the world, and so I got to learn a little about how the author of the article perceives the author of a beloved children’s book.
To me, that’s . . . magical, because it means that through words and ideas, three very different individuals connected. That’s the impact of writing and sharing, criticism aside.
I look back on this class with a derisive fondness and laugh, remembering how I told my friend that I was ‘marching to my execution’ when it was time to submit my paper analyzing Jordan’s book. In a way, maybe I was, because the moment I placed the paper in my professor’s hands, I could no longer hide, cowering in my self-imposed shackles of ‘but what if…’ My sense of control over the paper and my fear of failure, at least for the time being, had, in fact, been killed. I was no longer in control of this paper. That was and is okay, because one of the great things about writing is that you can always start anew, regardless of the scarlet letter at the top of the page.