By, Gina LaVerde
Not too long ago, a client (in a distinctly unsatisfied tone) dubbed my writing, “VANILLA.”
And, I, on the other side of the phone line, closed my eyes – feeling for the gift in her remark.
See, I’m at this place in life where I’ve finally recognized that each moment truly brings a gift. If I manifested the vanilla comment, then I can only stand to gain from it.
I’m passed being offended by criticism. As a professional writer, like most of us – I’ve grown a pretty thick skin for vanilla-ish commentary. I figure that clients are people too, and, sometimes they just can’t find better words to express what they need. Heck, that’s why they hire writers. For Words.
An editor once told me that my work was “more suited for advertising” – as if that were a bad thing. I’ve been told that my restaurant reviews left the reader “too breathless” – as if that were a bad thing. I’ve been told that I am “more of a story-teller than an article writer” – as if that were a bad thing.
I’ve been asked to speed up, cut to the chase, slow down, get into or out of a character’s head, switch perspectives and possibly my total fave critique came from a fiction editor who told me it was “impossible” to write from the perspective of an unborn child. Gotta love it. The thought that even in fiction, things could be “impossible.”
And now, “vanilla.” And, I like vanilla. I mean, it’s no chocolate, but some vanilla in my morning tea or smoothie really brings out the other flavors.
Was my client trying to say that my words provided her with a deliciously subtle yet strong foundation from which she could build the spiciest pizazziest work? Mmmmmm, I took a short pause on the phone, and began to miss those vanilla lattes I used to drink. But, then I snapped back.
Oh yeah, she didn’t mean the least good thing about this truly exotic spice. Or the work being judged, for that matter.
Truth is, as a writer, of course I want to please my clients. I chose the job. If I can keep my clients happy, I can get paid and move on to the next gig. They can expand their businesses and skip off to vacationland. Everyone wins. So, I stopped to REALLY listen to her AGAIN.
What had I missed? I’d recorded all the conversations we had, and there were many of them. I had a lot of material to work from and was using her own words in the drafts I sent her.
So, how was I gonna please vanilla lady? If my work was vanilla to her, how could I make it chocolate for just one moment? Or, should I recommend her to someone else –because name-calling’s just not nice?
Well, I decided that it wasn’t a good idea to pawn her off on any of my writerly friends, because none of them deserved the potential heckling.
And, the process that followed the decision to stay has been quite eye opening. And, yes a gift.
I stayed. And I wrote. Vanilla-laced-cinnamon piece after fruity, salty, bland doo doo piece after another. Never chocolate. Never. But, I didn’t know that as I wrote. Even pieces that came from deep within my soul didn’t hit the mark for my client. And, later I realized that they didn’t hit the mark for me either.
Her vanilla comment lead her to (in not so many words) refer to me as a liar, lazy person, bad communicator, and yes, even stupid. For a few weeks I actually found myself going out of my way in search of my gifts that were quite obviously sewn between the seams of her words. I let her believe that I lied. I figured there might be a lesson in that too. I even enlisted my spiritual advisors.
I kept sending gratitude for the challenge. I knew there was no way I was in this situation for no reason; I knew I would hit a major breakthrough. And I did.
In the end, there was no pleasing my client. The experience brought me back to a recurring one I had with a family member who used her words to praise my friends and put me down.
When I decided I’d had enough, I sent the client the best work I had, didn’t charge her more, and left her with love and more gratitude than she can ever know.
Her words to me were my manifestation. A mirror of how I was feeling about my writing. Truth hurts, baby cakes. Thank the goddesses that she didn’t call my work “shit.” I’d have a harder time coming up with sweet sounding words about why shit ain’t so bad. But, I decided that I’m no vanilla. At least not when vanilla means boring. And, I’m not going to attract that kind of crap anymore.
And, so you wanna know why I felt vanilla and she was just strong enough to call me out on it? Because for years, I’ve been writing for other people, while this spicy voice inside me died a little each time. And, that frightened little writer girl inside me went out searching for another soul who could hold her down. Not inspire her breaking loose. You know – the comfort zone.
I chose pleasing others and making money above publishing my own work. Writing for this client was grueling. Each time I sat down, I got headaches and nausea. Each word was a complete struggle.
Finally, that writer inside is stronger than my fear of failure or being broke on my butt. I’m no longer trying to find people who keep me down. Because, if you look — they are there. Always willing to make you feel inferior.
Here comes MY work.
I can’t fit into anyone’s box anymore. Even if it is a tempting box of chocolates.
Keep it spicy loves!