A few recent networking activities turned me sour. I’m a pretty positive person and I like to be around happy people. Sure, we all have our bad days, but optimism is a character trait I strive to embody and am naturally drawn to folks who exude it. That’s why these encounters still weigh heavy on my mind. To be specific, I spoke with several people in the last few weeks who were, let’s say, “downers.” Here’s just a few examples: 

First, a social worker I met via networking who unfortunately used “funny client stories” as icebreakers. I cringed when she relayed one anecdote after another. Then she turned her observations on me, reminding me that “getting published in fiction” was a one in a million chance and to manage my expectations. I expressed my agreement until she said, “Don’t quit your day job.” Needless to say, it was unsettling. 

Next, I had an exciting conversation with a celebrity author who swiftly soared to the top of the bestselling list. My gratitude to engage in dialogue with him quickly waned when his arrogance and ‘humble bragging’ made me feel like a “starry-eyed optimist.” Then he laughed and added, “Yeah, well, you keep at it and let me know when you land something,” in a way that I interpreted as “you’re adorable if you think you can make it in my world.”

To be clear, they didn’t need to pepper me with sunshine and butterflies. Far from it. I welcome honesty and cautious tales of experience. And I don’t mind a tough truth talk because breaking from non-fiction into fiction isn’t easy. Still, I welcome caution and thoughtful criticism, not condescension.

Yes, we’ve all said things we’ve regretted. But here’s the kicker, I don’t think that they did

“What’s the big deal?” you might say. Yeah, I hear you. “If you want to make it in this field you need to grow some thick skin.” True! Yet in all my networking, interviewing, and befriending authors, I can honestly say there is one shared truth: Criticism, is part of the job, but belittling isn’t fair. And that, my fellow writers, sticks with you long after the sting of criticism wears off. 

These two encounters happened on the same day, so, a little bummed, I vented to my sister. She had the perfect antidote, “Boy, that’s uncalled for. But hey, you’re a writer. Why don’t you turn them into characters?”

I love it! Lessoned learned.

If life gives you lemons… turn them into characters.

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