How Humility Can Give You Something To Be Proud Of

by - February 1, 2016

be humble, humility,
In my high school English class, I wrote a story I thought would change the world. I had a creative head as puffed out as my polyester bell-bottoms {oh, I miss those gorgeous pants!} and I sat on the edge of an orange plastic chair, watching the face of my favourite teacher in the world as he read it over.

I thought I'd see pride. I thought I'd see the shadow of some deep pain as my words moved him. I thought maybe he'd look up at me, eyes wet with tears unshed.

"There's no grounding," he said, handing back pages scarred by his cruel red pen. "She's a floating head. Where is she? What is she doing when she's thinking these things? I don't feel her."

Don't feel her?

That struck me straight in the I'm-A-Prodigy Gut and I wanted to cry right there, sitting on orange plastic while behind me A Hard Day's Night sang from the record player that always sat beneath the blackboard.

Don't feel her? But all I did was feel her as I wrote it. How could that have not translated to paper?

I sulked.

I moaned.

I wrote some angsty poetry.

And then...
           I rewrote my story.

And it became my first piece ever published in anything beyond our tiny local newspaper. At fifteen years old I got to cash a fifty dollar cheque because I listened to my English teacher.

The lesson?

Listen to your English teacher. Be humble.

Humility is hard. It's a mountain of boulders that shift beneath your feet and unless you're wearing the right shoes it will crash down on top of you and crush your dreams.

No one likes a cocky jerk. 

And no one likes a self-deprecating fool.

Confidence is sexy. Know-it-all idiocy is...well...idiotic.

I am not perfect and there is always room for improvement. If that lesson wasn't yet engraved into my very skin the process of handing off my book to beta-readers would have murdered me. I'm talking all out slaughter. Blood splatters on my pretty writing room walls. Chalk outlines on the floor and the beginnings of SMALL TOWN DEATH MAKES BIG TIME MESS, the Alanna Rusnak story—a powerful documentary series in the can't-look-away vein of Netflix's Making A Murderer.


At this moment, The Church In The Wildwood is stronger than it's ever been. Not because of me — well, a little because of me ;) — but mostly because of the people who poured out their knowledge and their criticism to help me bring it to a place of higher quality and better story-telling.

What I didn't realize is that I spent a lot of time telling how a character felt instead of showing how they felt. Rewriting with this in mind has added richness and a depth that was seriously lacking.

I've also learned about my use of clunky adverbs. Stephen King says, "The road to hell is paved with adverbs." This is hard because, in many ways, I have the mind of a poet. I think in rather flowery terms and this spills into my writing without thought.

And though it's true to me, it's not necessary or true to the story.

Editing is about being ruthless. Goodbye adverbs! {Not all of them. Certainly not. There is a time and place for everything and that's part of the editing battle - knowing the time and place, and doing it well.}

I am coming out of round two with a confidence I haven't felt yet. I've always believed in my story but now I feel it's actually worthy of my belief and the end is so close I can taste it. {It tastes like really expensive chocolate in case you're wondering...}

The next step?

I'm going to read through the entire thing again and then go on a hunt for English lovers. I need readers who excel at spelling/grammar/syntax/etc. I need a brutal line-edit so I have something beautifully polished when I shop it out to agents. {Yikes!}

Cheers to moving forward!

Know any grammar nerds? I need their help!

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  1. Hey Alanna,
    I am decently good at proofreading grammar, etc. People used to get me to proof their papers from them in university. I would be happy to read your story if you like!
    Susan Gowing

  2. Ahhh, so glad that the tough part of hearing criticism and suggestions from your beta-readers about your heart-poured-out-on-paper has ultimately been worth the pain. So exciting that you are this close to moving onto the next step!

    1. It IS exciting :) So thankful that you've been part of the journey!

  3. Me: *sees words "grammar nerds"*

    Me: *raises hand*

    How can I help? :)

    1. I need nerd readers!!!!! And your eyes on the project would be amazing, not only for the nerd factor ;) but because you're young and I need some wisdom to know whether I should market for YA or adult. (main character is 15 but themes are quite heavy and mature...) If you're up for the challenge, just let me know and we'll work it out!

    2. Totally! Email me at madelineosigian(at)gmail(dot)com


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© Alanna Rusnak