When You Know Your Writing But People Don’t Believe You

Reflection / Thursday, May 11th, 2017

A few weeks ago, I was very proud of myself for a very simple thing. I showed somebody some in-progress writing that I was working on–a script, more specifically–that I was planning on shooting soon. I’m the type of person who managed to go six years in art classes and rarely show any of my work. I’d go out of my way to game the system, to wait until the end of class or show something else or show something intentionally bad, like stick-figure thumbnails of what the final product would look like in order to avoid it. It was, is, and, fucking hell help me, the biggest issue that I deal with as a creator. There’s a whole memoir in me about my art anxiety, imposter syndrome, mental handicaps, simple fear, and just oddly and inexplicably low self-esteem I have about the creative side of myself, to the point that I still can’t even call myself an “artist” or “writer” or “creator” without feeling like an asshole. For fuck’s sake, my very first post on this site in 2014 directly addresses this issue: this blog is meant to be a direct, opposing force to said feelings.

This person didn’t know this about me, but did know that I don’t show things often, I don’t talk about things often. If I’ve done so with you, congrats! I love you and we can unceremoniously boil you down to being a safe space for me in trying to find my own self-love. The friend I was with is the type who likes to link everything back to parental issues; things like how you dress or eat, whether you wear makeup, things that seem asinine at times. But I know there is truth to some of this. I’ve read enough Malcolm Gladwell books to not ignore the nature/nurture argument just because it presents things I don’t like. I do think that this particular friend places too much emphasis on it though. It’s sort of like that scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Meryl Streep’s character schools Anne Hathaway’s over a blue sweater and the illusion of choice.While not a perfect or full picture, the scene serves as a reminder that many of the things we do, the ‘choices’ we make in our daily lives are not necessarily our own, or we aren’t fully conscious of them or their origins. But at the same time, Anne Hathaway’s character, for whatever reasons, did make the choice to buy that sweater, not knowing the context that Streep’s later presented. But I understand that this was more about the options available to a person.

When I showed my friend the script, I was proud of myself, and my work. But my friend immediately picked it apart, which in and of itself is not the problem. Despite aforementioned issues, I am not immune to criticism and it’s benefits, as well as the divorcing of the actual criticism from the person who is delivering it (in terms of your personal relationship with them vs. their input as a critic). My friends biggest issue wasn’t so much the content itself so much as the fact that I was even showing it to them. To them, this proved that it was not ready–that I was not ready–if I needed reassurance from someone else. That if I needed a second opinion, it invalidated my confidence in the piece. They then went on to argue that the writing was trying to be something it was not, completely neglecting any potential context or reason why I would write something in a different–in this case, more formal and academic voice–than my usual casual blog post or my usual way of speaking.

So I defended myself. I took his criticisms about the tone and voice of the piece to heart and did make some changes that bettered it. But I also explained that I was happy with it, and just happy that I was finally making again and wanted to share with someone I thought would be happy and supportive. I thought they specifically would appreciate the piece as it was about a topic they enjoy. I explained that the educational nature of the piece prompted me to avoid my usual f-bombs, anecdotes, and brazen casualness.

To them, I got defensive. That this reaction was a reflection of how I feel about myself. Which it totally was. But not in the way that they were assuming.

Ok. Phew. Rewind. So.

I over-think. I think I said that already. I’m the type of person who likes to plan. I love to plan. That’s why I ended up in production management–enough people told me that between high school and college. I tend to like planning the thing more than doing the thing or even some times more than the thing itself. I guess maybe part of it is that in that planning stage, it is Schrodinger’s plan. It is both perfect and a fucking mess. But in that moment, it is in some way perfect, and after this moment, once we’ve broken ground, it can never be again. Because nothing is ever perfect that humans make, and more often than not, DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT. I actively get trapped in the planning trap. For fuck’s sake, I’ve blogged about it.

I guess I was mad because in my eyes, I was progressing. I showed them my work, a draft of some writing I was refining. They didn’t like it (which is fine) but the reason they didn’t like it was because it wasn’t how I talk (which is fair without context) but they failed to understand that I wasn’t aiming for something for this blog, which is my cerebral dumping ground, but rather animationcomplex.com, a site that I have an agenda for, that I’m trying to set some sort of bar for. They refused to accept the context.

They called out the bar I’d set for myself. Saying that, I shouldn’t’ve have it so high if I’m only just starting out. I agree and disagree. It’s ok to have and want high standards, it’s another thing if you let that stop you from getting out your shitty early attempts (and not early but still shitty attempts). The whole “you have 10,000 bad drawings in you you have to get out first shtick.” That you’re going to be bad at something new, but you have a clear vision of where you want to be when you start to suck less.

I’m a serial work-hider. I don’t show people things. I got a standing ovation in my thesis group when I was taking graduate classes for showing my thumbnails to the group. It was pathetic, but also a big first step for me, and my class and teacher knew that. And I’m grateful to them for that. I sprung an art show on my closest friends and parents in college. No one knew I drew. No one knew how good I drew. It feels weird to admit all of that, especially since that’s also a lifetime ago.

I was looking for feedback on this draft/script/THING. And I was shut down for even asking for an opinion. I understand their reasoning, but it still hurt, and I’m CLEARLY still angry. It’s embarrassing to have someone shit on your stuff not even because of the quality but because they questioned why you would seek out anyone else’s opinion. They accused me of doing that to stall from actually creating the media that the script is for. And I do understand where they are coming from. I can be all talk, no action some times, planning trap be damned.

Then there was the critique that it didn’t sound like me. I’m someone who tends to write exactly how I talk, save for a few alliterations or clever anecdotes that in-person I’m not quick-witted enough for.2 If you don’t believe me go back to the top of this post and START. AGAIN. But I’m not trying to sound like me with this other project. I’m trying to sound academic, and more professional. I am using bigger words and more complex sentence structure because that’s how I write when I’m not blogging.There is a flaw to me feeling like I need this in order to sound more credible, but I am hoping that I can also pepper in lighter touches that most academic work lacks (thus driving away the masses). I took technical writing classes in college. I took journalism classes, comparative lit classes with your typical academic essays, I took classes where you blogged casually. I took creative writing, short story writing, screenwriting classes. I was in the English honors society, Sigma Tau Delta, despite NOT being an English major because of how many writing classes I took. And I also self-designed an academic concentration in Animation Studies because I am a massive, massive dork of a human.3 I was lucky to have taken a number of academic classes about animation in college, so I’m really used to writing that way about it, and that’s what made me care enough about it to pursue it even now, five years out from undergrad.

I’m new at this new project. I will suck, and that’s ok. So for now, I am leveraging my lack of experience with what I know I’m not half bad at, coupled with what I have learned from watching others succeed, like Emily Graslie from The Brain Scoop, Sarah Urist Green from The Art Assignment, Jamin Warrin from the sadly defunct PBS Game/Show and his own site, Killscreen, all the CrashCourses (particular shoutout to Andre in CrashCourse: Games), and Mike Rugnetta at PBS Idea Channel. They have mastered casual acamedics, digestible bits without compromising the education. Then of course, there’s all the video essayists I love but won’t get into otherwise this post will NEVER END. These people have all managed to sync up education and entertainment, and are often categorized as “edutainment.”4 They have their style because they all have many, many videos and years under their belts…and professional writers and research teams BUT THAT’S BESIDES THE POINT.

I want to write academically in the future (and now) and I also still like the casual flippancy of this blog. I like how unrestrained I am in podcasts. So I get why my friend was confused at my sudden 180 in tone and temperament. Here’s the plot twist:

It’s not a sudden 180. I am both of those things at the same time. I am dropping f*bombs here and using my MLA-standard citations over there. I’m still trying to figure out that flow myself, trying to decide how much of me I want to infuse if I am working towards a more objective site. But at the same time, it’s subjective if I am presenting a theory/idea and researching for it/building a case one way or another around it.

The one takeaway I got from the conversation though is that, as much as my ideas are what I am trying to sell and get people interested and excited about, at the end of the day what you are selling is yourself. You’re the thing that makes those ideas stand out from the sea of similar sentiments.5 But even then, I’m not not going to drop formalities when I’m presenting research just because I’m not a formal person day-to-day. Even now I am actively wondering if I am overdoing it with how informal and silly I am being on here.6 I’m less inclined to mind it on this blog since this only sees a handful of people, and the subject matter (moi) is only so interesting before it’s…not. No offense, me. I’m hoping animation has a farther reach than my musings and monthly recaps. 😉

One of my goals, my absolute bucket list goals, is to publish about animation. Either an art of book or an academic book or paper, or ideally all of the above (and then some). I’ll self-publish if need-be, but only once I feel it’s ready. Animation Complex is my foray into that, and so naturally I took up a more formal tone for my work, since that’s the tone that I feel would most help me get a future project. But my friend felt that I shouldn’t cater. And I think as an artist that’s where the line is. At what point are we catering to how things are, and at what point are we to break the molds? I think at this point, I am still learning the rules and thus cannot break them just yet. I’m not changing myself because my writing style didn’t fit in with their idea of who I am as a person. The writing didn’t match how I portray myself person-to-person, therefore it must be fabricated and strategized? It just comes naturally for me to adjust to my situation, with none being any more or less natural. It’s just what that person and other people are exposed to and thus form assumptions around. Even at work, you always have to adjust your voice depending on who is CC’d on that email. Big producer? Please and thank you’s. Another PA you’re on good terms with? Emojis on IM are acceptable. Time and place, love, time and place.

It’s funny how I didn’t want to write this out in my journal. That’s right. I’m that narcissistic into self-reflection that I blog here on top of writing in a proper pen-to-paper, glue-bound Barnes and Noble-bought book.7 Regarding my journal vs blog, it’s never been difficult to decide what goes where and when. At first, I felt this was too–not too personal so much as too much about another specific person who may someday check on here. But I’d like to think that they would be flattered to know they ruffled my feathers this much and made me think about their point this much. Because here I am, getting defensive via blog post. Look at that, you pain. I wrote over 2000 words about a 15 minute conversation. Take that high school diary.

1)I was very similar to Anne Hathaway’s character for a long time (I blame the easiness of uniforms in Catholic school), so this sick burn has always stuck with me.
2)womp womp
3)More on this academic concentration in the future.
4)Nailed it.
5)Alliteration 10/10 would do again
6)Footnotes are enablers to snarky-ness.
7)Alliteration 10/10 DID IT AGAIN SUCKAS

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