I have just finished collating the results of my survey. THANK YOU so much to all of you who participated. (It will be open indefinitely so just click here if you'd ever like to respond. Please do!) It has been lovely to get to know you better, learn more about what you love and steal your favourite things and ideas. (I mean borrow!) It has been a very helpful, inspiring exercise. And I am very grateful for your time and effort, and kindness and honesty.
I also learned some interesting things about myself. I asked for feedback from you. 99.99% of the responses were complimentary. The other 0.01% were gently expressed constructive criticism. Of course, the criticism was all I could think about, playing over and over again in my mind, while all the praise and encouragement sailed over my head. I mulled and stewed for days. "But, but, but!" my conscience cried, needlessly justifying every single slightly unfavourable comment.
Of course, what brought about the hurt was my painful awareness of every one of the flaws that others had pointed out. I know my weaknesses, all too well. And I try to fill in my cracks in as best I can, crossing my fingers that nobody will notice. Yet the survey brought home that other people do notice the fissures, and they share the doubts I harbour about myself and my writing. I hadn't entirely gotten away with it, which means that the reassuring voice in my head saying "you're doing fine!" was wrong. And I didn't know if I could trust it anymore.
My initial conclusion was that I was too fragile open myself up to be critiqued. The truth is, I had an ulterior motive for the survey, besides being acquainted with my readers and fine-tuning my blog writing. I also wanted to see how graciously I could take honest feedback. I figured that I would be faced with it soon enough, especially since I am writing a book which will, presumably, need to be scrutinised by editors and publishers and reviewers and a wider audience of strangers. Yet this tiny test group of loyal readers with kind words had injured me, which begged the question: How could I write again without being self-conscious, turning the criticism over and over in my head, feeling paralysed? Well, I know I can. Because I do it every day, in my own head. And I've learned to overcome it.
What dawned on me, after all that, was that I am not only my biggest critic, but also my most ardent supporter. The "but, but, but!" in my head was me defending myself, justifying my own mistakes, even when I knew that, in most cases, I could have done better. I realised that I do believe in myself. I have faith in my intuition. I forgive myself easily. Furthermore, my fragility is an asset, in a way. I absorb any appraisal I am given like a sponge and, after a little self-pity, try to use it to learn and grow and evolve.
And that's comforting. It's refreshing. Because when all is said and done, no matter how many people read my writing, no matter how much they love or hate it, at its heart, it is just me. Sitting alone in a room, tapping away at my laptop. Weaving words into sentences and sentences into stories. And I have to answer to myself.