The Rules Of Embarrassment
No matter how hard we try to not get ourselves into embarrassing situations, it's gonna happen. It's how we deal with those moments and how we follow the rules of embarrassment which determine if we become a writer who can weather the writerly storms in our future or not. Here are three rules of embarrassment I think everyone should remember as you sit down to write your next great story:
1. Stop Thinking Everyone Is Watching You
When I was in elementary school, I didn't hang out with many people. I was incredibly shy, extremely introverted and lacked the social graces to hang with the "popular" kids. I was caught up in my own little world and would even have conversations with imaginary friends during recess because I was too shy to join in the playground games.
One day when I was deep in a conversation with myself, one of the school bullies suddenly started teasing me and yelling to everyone around us that I must be crazy because I was talking to someone who wasn't really there. I can still remember how embarrassed I was to be caught and thought the whole school would know of my shame. But the reality was only a handful of kids even heard the bully and after they all took a moment to laugh at my expense, they went back to their games. Yes, the embarrassment stung, but I had come out on the other side realizing I had survived a storm I always thought would somehow kill my spirit.
Not everyone in the world watches your every move as a new writer. Yeah, there are still bullies out there who might make fun of your work, but in the grand scheme of things they don't really matter. They even serve a purpose by helping writers develop thicker skins so they can survive in this challenging world of the writing industry.
2. Pick Yourself Up And Keep Going
When I was in my twenties I moved to a new town in Texas and found myself in a new career. I was an ad person for the local radio station and it was my job to bring in new clients. One winter morning I was visiting one of my downtown clients. The streets were cobblestone covered in a layer of ice which I didn't realize until after I parked in front of the business and attempted to get out of my car.
I know now that slick-bottom boots and a frilly skirt was not the best dress for the day and my embarrassment came when I slipped on the cobblestone, hit the ground, and SLID UNDER MY CAR! Praying no one saw my humiliation was not an option as several people came running out of surrounding businesses, including my client, and they watched me as I crawled out from under my little Chevy Chevette and made it safely to the curb.
There will be many obstacles on the road to publication but writers need to be prepared for anything. There will be moments at conferences when we think we have it all together and then we will hit the ground in front of that agent or editor we are trying to impress. That's life and it's how we handle it which allows us to grow as writers. I managed to laugh at myself that day on the cobblestones and I still manage to laugh when I get embarrassed about my writing today.
3. Learn From The Lesson
Back in March of 2011 when I was a true newbie writer (as green as the hills and didn't realize it), I decided I had written a brilliant little story about a dog named Mason. I made all the mistakes a newbie could...thought the fact my students like the story made it publishing worthy, listened to people who said "Oh, you should publish that!"...and promptly emailed it to one of the editors of Clarion Publishing.
I even wrote down the date of exactly when I expected my acceptance email to come in. No, I wasn't that arrogant...just that naive and didn't realize just how much I needed to learn about the writing world. Needless to say I was quite surprised when that special day came and went without so much as a peep from that editor. Years later I am so thankful that person decided the wisest thing she could have done was hit the delete button as quickly as possible and send my little masterpiece into the cyber slush pile waste basket.
I know now that there is a great lesson to be learned from that first rejection. The only thing that can happen after the embarrassing realization your story truly DOES stink is that you can always choose to improve on it. As a writer, you can learn and grow and strengthen your writely voice until someone does take notice and those rejection letters start to become sprinkled with an occasional acceptance.
That note to myself back in 2011 still sits on my dry erase board...a reminder of where I've been, where I am today, and most importantly...where I want to be in the years ahead. I know there will be more embarrassing moments in my future but I will welcome them for the lessons they will teach me...and for the fodder they will provide for my future posts...;~)