Guest Post: Charley’s Hidden Words

Guest Post: Charley’s Hidden Words

Regular blog readers will have noticed one of my frequent commenters. She used to comment under the name of Spook, and now she’s Charley R, but whatever she’s known as, she’s still the same person!

I met Spook, or Charley, on the writing website Protagonize in September of 2009. I joined at the beginning of August, she at the end, and through collaborating on a story entitled the Protagonize Bus, we became friends. We’ve got to the point where we trust each other with phone numbers, send each other Christmas presents, and rarely go a day without some form of (text-based) communication. We’ve yet to meet in person, but we hope to some time in the future.

And that’s how I ended up on Protagonize. Thanks to a curious prod at a Facebook advertisement, I found the perfect platform to show the world my work, and begin to build up my confidence with it.

Incidentally, that’s how I found Protagonize too. Who would have known it? Those Facebook ads really do work!

I asked Charley to write a guest post for me because her attitude to writing is very different to mine. I’m very public about it – my family are well aware of what I’m doing when I’m hammering away at a keyboard! Being at a boarding school, however, has meant that it’s been easier for her to keep hers private, and that’s what she’s done.

This was a mystery to me, so I asked her to share a few of her reasons. Here she is.

To most who know me, I’m a very outgoing, enthusiastic, and occasionally brave-to-the-point-of-daft person. I’m the one who’ll ask the question that everyone else thinks is too stupid for words, and heck knows I don’t suffer from any of the usual looks-related traumas that seem to be something of a pandemic amongst my age group. Heck, I’m the girl who once attended a themed day in year six dressed up as a volcano. If I can do that, I must be pretty fearless.

But on the inside, I’m not really all that confident. I look it, certainly, but, in the words of my tutor (who has a knack for pointing out awkward truths like this): “That’s your defence mechanism, isn’t it?”

And he was right. Behind all the bounce and bravado, I’m an incredibly insecure creature. Even being in a room with an argument going on can make me want to run away and hide, and heck knows I’m a master of self guilt-tripping, even over the tiniest things.  What’s more, I’m terrible with criticism – partly I’m just not used to getting that much of it.  I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but most things I do are more likely to earn me some form of congratulations or praise than a wrinkled lip and a begrudging “well…”.

That, and I have a debilitating fear of failure.  That’s really why I keep my writing to myself. I hate the thought of working so hard and putting all my heart and soul into something, only for someone to read it and tell me that they thought it was thoroughly sub-standard. Being derided is even worse. Even mentioning my favourite songs is something I avoid, for fear I will be laughed at.

So, you can imagine just how sensitive I am about something as personal as my writing. For years I’ve claimed to be “emailing friends”, “researching my project” or just “doobling about the web”, to keep the prying eyes of family and over-curious friends from seeing the several thousand typed characters sitting on the open Word Document in my lap. My philosophy is that, if I can still see problems with it, there’s no way it’s going anywhere near anyone else. I feel this desperate need to proof anything I do against the possibility of being waved in my face with a smirk and a derisory laugh. Or just plain thrown in the bin because it stank like decade-old dragon dung.

Of course, I know I’m being stupid. Being chronically insecure and hiding my work isn’t going to help me improve in any way, because, even if I ever got around to polishing and editing one of my creations until I could find no fault with it whatsoever, there is always going to be something that I have missed, or some suggestion that someone could make that would improve it a million times over.

But still, that fear of my family – who, if I’m honest, I sometimes get the feeling think I’m destined to be something of a failure due to my inability to compete with some of my incredibly intelligent friends, lack of a typical girl’s social life and general eccentricities – reading the things that showed such a personal part of me, was simply unbearable.

And that’s how I ended up on Protagonize. Thanks to a curious prod at a Facebook advertisement, I found the perfect platform to show the world my work, and begin to build up my confidence with it.

I am so pleased I was right. Reading back through the things I posted in my early days on Protagonize is like looking back at the work of a different person – one I tend to blush and hide under the table at the thought of ever being. I learned valuable lessons from reading the works of others, from picking up pointers from the grammar and plot-construction groups, and made some fantastic new friends along the way.

But the best part was that I began to learn to cope with criticism. It was hard at first – I used to have to take a deep breath before I could even read what the person had to say – but slowly, I began to see criticism, not as proof that my work was as utterly catastrophically bad as I feared, but that, sometimes, I had honestly just made a little slip-up. It’s an ongoing process, and I can’t pretend that the sight of a stranger’s comment on my work still makes my heart do a little backflip of apprehension, but it’s getting there.

However, showing it to like-minded enthusiasts on the internet is one thing. The people in my immediate vicinity is quite another. Maybe it’s the reassurance that I can ignore “troll” comments, and even if I’m secretly distraught that a person hates my work, I can hide behind a mask of reasonable and graceful acceptance. There’s no way I could do that in a face-to-face encounter. And the feeling of personally failing the people I care about by presenting them with something awful would probably kill what little confidence I have in my skill with words.

So, if I’m honest, I can’t properly say when I’m going to tell my friends and family about the half-dozen unfinished projects lurking around on my laptop. I’ve kept my presence on Protagonize a secret for nearly three years, and heck knows I can probably keep it going for a lot longer. But, one day, I’ve sworn to myself, I’m going to make myself do it. I’m going to stand up and tell them all about what I’ve just told you here. And I certainly won’t withhold any requests to see my work. I’ll hand it over proudly with a smile on my face and nod serenely and whatever they say about it, be it good, bad or downright ugly.

But when that day will be? Who can say.

I leave you with a little poem I wrote during my GCSE exams, nearly a year ago. To me, it’s a near-perfect expression of my defensiveness over exposing things that are personal to me. Slightly ironic, given that this poem is a near-perfect example of the very things I strive so hard to protect from the world.

Morturi te saluto, imperator.

Paper Things
I have a little heart
Full of tiny paper things.
With their tiny paper bodies
And their tiny paper wings.

On their little sides I write them
My tiny little notes
My fantasies and dreamings,
All my tiny little hopes.

I hold them close and tightly,
For I do not want to see
What the world would do to them
If I should set them free.

But I’m hoping for a moment,
Any place or time will do,
When I will face the daunting task
And share my dreams with you.

Thanks, Charley! I have to admit I can sympathise on many of your points. It’s much easier to deal with criticism from someone you don’t know than from someone you do.

I have no idea what that Latin bit means, but I daresay if you ask she’ll tell you herself in the comments ;)

Charley’s own blog, complete with its temperamental comment forms and intermittent email notifications (at least in my own experience) can be found here.

9 thoughts on “Guest Post: Charley’s Hidden Words

  1. Haha, “morturi te saluto, imperator” – we who are about to die salute you, emperor. It’s what gladiators used to say before they fought. I felt it was apt xD

    So happy to see my post up there – get yours to me anytime and I shall return the favour happily :)

  2. Don’t know if it makes you feel any better Charley, but let me share this tidbit with you:

    You remember that short story I sent to you to look at, the one about Crystal and mason looking for a church for their wedding. Well once you and Miriam had sent back comments I sent it to my husband. As we were commuting together I asked if he’d seen it and he started in on his critique. He had issues with the number of people I had quoted for the church size, he didn’t think it sounded small, and he thought I shouldn’t mention the specific branches of Christianity… all honest feedback, but you know what I did? I cried. I felt like he was attacking me personally, which was totally not the case.

    I realized something in that moment. It’s easier form me to take criticism in written form. From my years as a document creator for medical device companies, I’ve learned that when the red marks are on the paper it’s not about me, but what’s on the paper. I can distance myself and learn.

    So my hubby’s been sent that revised piece from Sarah’s Phoenix to review. I asked him not to talk to me about it but send it to me with his comments. I know I’ll deal with it better that way.

    So I know how you feel with those bits of paper. I feel the same. I also hope that when your family does find out their reaction is what mine would be if one of my kids did the same thing – Pride. After all you’re good enough to work with a UK Best seller author team. I’d say that counts for a heck of a lot!

    Love and Huggles
    :} Cathryn

    1. *huggles* I completely agree! It feels so personal – even on paper to me, because i get so attached to what I write. One just has to learn to get over it and see criticism as “ooh, here’s a good idea!” rather than “this is rubbish, get off my internets!!11!”

      And I WILL pluck up the courage to tell my mum and dad soon. Hopefully this exeat – I’m going to make myself be brave and do it! I hope …

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