Don’t go to Reddit for validation.
I am not a writer. At least, I didn’t think I was. Then I did. Then I didn’t again.
Here’s what happened:
Initial Success and Unrealistic Expectations
I have been writing for one week. I’ve been thinking about writing and reading about writing now for years. I’ve been talking about it for a little less than that. And I finally, finally walked through my fear of vulnerability and after having my husband (a proven writer) proofread my work, I published my first article on Medium one week ago.
The first one did not get curated. As it turns out, no matter how much information I’d consumed about “How To Write a Great Medium Article” and “11 Things To Do In Every Medium Article,” asking for claps is not cool.
So, I tried again. That one did get distributed.
And I felt the sweet success of unrealistic expectations and external validation. I started fantasizing about leaving my day job and tra-la-la-ing through a field of abounding, never-ending streams of freelance work and waking up at 8:00 AM.
Not really. Kind of. That’s not the point.
For the first time in a long time, I felt purpose. I wrote words and people — real, breathing people — read them. And clapped for them! Without my asking!
I tried again. I didn’t even ask my husband to proofread it! I got bolder.
I publicized it. I wanted everyone to see it.
“Everyone” Is Not a Target Audience
I posted the article to the r/dnd Subreddit, a Subreddit for Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts. Makes sense, right? Now I was tra-la-la-ing through a field of digital high-fives and viral social media shares.
Wrong. I was immediately criticized. The nature of the criticism here isn’t the point.
The point is that I felt, within minutes, the side of writing that isn’t talked about as much as the “13 Ways To Quit Your Day Job and Be a Freelancer.”
I felt hot, red, and sick. I felt Impostor Syndrome.
What I felt was shame.
Nearly a #DecadeChallenge ago, Author and Researcher Brené Brown shared her definition of shame: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging — something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
And ultimately, that’s what I felt. In the safe space of Medium, I started to feel worthy of belonging. My voice belonged somewhere.
On r/DnD, I learned my voice did not belong. And it hurt.
Tamara Levitt, Head of Mindfulness for the Calm app, often tells me in the Daily Calm meditation that I should, essentially, breathe into my pain. She asserts that by acknowledging my pain (or fidgeting or thinking), I’ll start to find it easier to let go of it.
So that’s what I did.
I allowed myself to feel the hurt of criticism.
I acknowledged my pain. I acknowledged that it hurts when someone doesn’t love my writing. And I acknowledged that I misunderstand a lack of warm reception of my work as a message that my words aren’t worthy of being read.
8 Upvotes, 11 Reads, and 1 Very Important Share
I recognize this all sounds a little dramatic for something that was seen by a smaller percentage than the followers I received for the article.
24 hours later, I recognize that this experience wasn’t that big of a deal. I’ve seen much, much worse in the realm of writing criticism. I wasn’t cyberbullied, I wasn’t attacked, I wasn’t Swatted. The damage was approximately 13 fairly reasonable comments on a buried Subreddit post from people I’ll never meet.
More importantly, the people that read the article weren’t my target audience. I didn’t write it for them. I wrote it for professionals who think people who play D&D are weird. I wrote it for mothers who are worried that their kids playing D&D aren’t socializing enough. I wrote it for the mother of a young friend I’ve watched grow up simply as a result of playing Dungeons & Dragons and learning to think critically in a safe space.
So, I learned a few things:
- “Everyone” isn’t going to like your stuff.
- “Everyone” doesn’t need to read your stuff.
- “Everyone” doesn’t dictate my self-worth.
And that’s okay.
24 Hours of Self-Doubt
I’ve come full circle in this dramatic brush with criticism. I decided that, even though I’d decided I was a writer, I wasn’t anymore. And then, I decided that what feels like a fair-weather love affair with writing is perfect exactly how it is. I am allowed to internalize the joy, pain, and everything in between that comes with this craft because it is my craft.
It is my voice and my impact. And if I’m getting criticism, that means I’m taking a stand.
My friend’s mom saw the article and shared it on Facebook. That was enough to open a new, blank draft.
Oh, and I didn’t ask my husband to proofread this article. I didn’t need him to.