I’ve been slowly chewing my way through Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I love it. Reading this book encourages me, soothes my tormented writing soul and gives me permission to lick my new writer’s wounds without guilt; but then get up and get going again.
This morning, I came across a passage in her chapter on Writing Groups. She relates the story of a new writer sharing part of his manuscript at a “prestigious” writing conference (I’m such a neophyte writer. I wouldn’t even know where to begin guessing which “prestigious” conference she was at!) with her and about twenty other students in the group she was teaching.
She says the writing was really quite bad. When it was time to give critique (in which I hold my breath for this poor man and almost cry – not really for him, but for myself) most everyone in the room was gracious. Except for one young woman, who finally raised her hand in exasperation and called everyone else patronizing and unhelpful. She then proceeded to chop the new writer’s work to pieces, leaving Lamott to clean up the blood.
But, here is what Lamott said afterwards, which struck so immediately to my soul:
“I tried to breathe, and to remember what unpublished writers need and why they come to these writing conferences. They need attention. They need someone to respond to their work as honestly as possible but without being abusive or diminishing.” (italics mine)
Wow. How did she know? How could she have guessed that, for months now, I’ve been starved for attention? Feeling like the kid standing in the corner, dutifully holding the wall up with my nose, while trying to balance the dunce cap on my head. Wouldn’t want that thing to fall off, now would we?
I find it easy to stay in my corner – wait for attention to come flooding towards me. Stay hidden behind computer screen, send out the occasional query, stoically suffer rejection (just a part of the process – suck it up, keep writing), hone my craft on my blog while concurrently building my platform, coaxing those hordes of followers to discover my masterful prose, so that when it comes time to pitch my debut historical fiction piece (oh yes, I have a dream), I’ll have ample ‘tribe members’ to tout my writing genius.
Maybe, the best reason to go seeking attention is to help me keep my feet planted firmly in reality.
But… I’ve been taught to NOT need attention. I’m not sure from where the message comes, but I try very hard to appear self-sufficient and un-needy. And not just in appearances, but in actuality. I like to solve my own problems, not burden others with my drama (unless I’m sharing it as a ‘story’ – not because I actually need help), keep my chin up and plow through the obstacles – no matter how personally damaging. I come from a long line of strong Mid-western farming work ethic. I married into a strong Mid-western coal-mining work ethic. I’ve lived every day of my adult life with the backdrop of a strong military/medical professional work ethic.
On second thought, maybe I do know where the message of not needing attention comes from.
But, I wonder if there isn’t another source for my shyness in seeking attention. I equate ‘needing attention’ with ‘neediness’. This sounds like something I don’t want to be – needy. Besides, last time I checked, the Proverbs 31 wife and other model women held high in Scriptures for me – as a Christian woman – to emulate, were the opposite of needy. I mean, I don’t remember Mary, the mother of Jesus, ever looking at the angel Gabriel and saying, “Well, you know, this is a really scary thing I’m about to do! I’m going to need some attention!”
But, here, I think I’ve missed the message. Mary did go seek attention after being visited by the Holy Spirit. Or, rather, she sought relationship. For after being told she would be the mother of the Most High, Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who also was experiencing a most unnatural experience: pregnancy in old age.
And, did God not say, “It is very good,” after He had created a companion for Adam – not before? Maybe Adam could have managed on his own. Obviously, God didn’t think so.
Maybe ‘needing attention’ is really code for, “being in relationship.” And a true, healthy relationship honors, respects, gives honest help and accepts honest advice to those within its circle.
Saying, “I need attention,” is really code for, “I need honest, authentic relationships with people who share my passions and understand my vulnerabilities.” It isn’t just new writers who ‘need attention’. Anyone, who truly desires living fully needs attention!
We were made for relationship. Living in genuine, honest, life-breathing relationships with others (especially when those relationships requires truthfulness and accepting the opinions and differences of others) is worship.
Living in worship is good.
How have you been living lately? Do you need some attention? Are you living in holy relationship with others or have you been trying to ‘go it’ alone?