Projectile Vomit, the X-Factor and Writing
Last week a 9th grader climbed up on the elevated stage at my daughter’s school to sing an Adele song in front of hundreds of fellow students. His shoulders and hands trembled with nerves. As he began to sing, his voice cracked. Kids in the audience felt his anxiety and cast glances at each other.
And then he projectile vomited.
The boy wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and kept going. While he sang his heart out, the kids in the front seats wiped off their shirts.
At the end, he got a standing ovation.
Just how badly do we want it?
As human beings we can relate to the fear of putting ourselves out there to be judged, and we are awed and humbled when we see someone who carries on in spite of failures. No one can remain neutral when faced with a person who is so committed to doing the best they possibly can that they keep going even under the most humiliating circumstances.
As writers, I think we can identify with this. When we create, the magic of writing and the challenge of living up to our own crazy-high standards fuels the fire of our self-expression.
But then comes the big reveal. We take our work out into the world, exposing ourselves to others' opinions—and we have to learn to thrive or survive.
Why is it that when I watch the X-factor, I get a lump in my throat every time? It’s not the manufactured drama, it’s the raw desire. I watch these people sing their hearts out and I am awed by the effort. They want it so badly.
A writer’s courage
Being a writer is a fascinating and complicated mix of private and public. We do it because there’s something about the act of creation that is immensely satisfying. Yet that’s not quite enough for most of us: We want to share this with an audience. We yearn for appreciation and acknowledgment, not only for our efforts but for our skill.
Sometimes we get that appreciation, and it feels great. We sign a book deal, or we make our own path to finding an audience. When it works, it’s the best: Connecting with readers is our gift. Maybe we win a prize, or are awarded a residency, or perhaps we kill it during a workshop and we go home floating on clouds.
Other times, we are faced with indifference or nervous side glances. That hurts even more than outright rejection. And sometimes we have to deal with cruelty—nasty reviews or vengeful editors.
Often we have to accept that our very best effort was simply not good enough. It hurts. Badly.
Can we find it in ourselves to wipe ourselves clean and carry on?
I know that for me, when I see a writer or a singer or anybody who takes the risk of putting themselves out there, I want to give them a standing ovation for the intensity of their effort. They try, they fail, they forge ahead and they try again.
They might vomit, or crash and burn on live TV, or write a story that fails to soar… and still they have my respect for the heart they have put into it.
May the Force be with you,
Katrin Schumann is the author of The Forgotten Hours (Lake Union, 2019), a Washington Post bestseller; This Terrible Beauty, a novel about the collision of love, art and politics in 1950s East Germany (March, 2020); and numerous nonfiction titles. She is the program coordinator of the Key West Literary Seminar. For the past ten years she has been teaching writing, most recently at GrubStreet and in the MA prison system, through PEN New England. Before going freelance, she worked at NPR, where she won the Kogan Media Award. Katrin has been granted multiple fiction residencies. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Talk of the Nation, and in The London Times, as well as other national and international media outlets, and she has a regular column on GrubWrites. Katrin can also be found at katrinschumann.com, and on Twitter and Instagram: @katrinschumann.See other articles by Katrin Schumann