I have never been a fan of English classesThis is mainly because they are so structured, and secondly because I do creative writing, and they want to teach me essays. There's friction. I don't think it helped that my Comp I teacher was the kind who gives maybe three of her students an A.
So, I have this issue with English. However--this is what makes it bearable--I like writing. Even essays. Even when I'm confined to a structure. I just enjoy writing.
This semester, I am taking Comp II with a professor who much more well-rounded and easygoing. I'm pretty solid on the basics of pacing and cutting and good sentence structure simply because I've written so much. And the bottom line is, I've been getting a lot of compliments in this class. Lots of scribbled "good work" and "nice detail" strewn through my essays.
Also, I've been passing some of my more polished MIRRORPASS chapters back and forth with a beta reader. She's been giving me lots of inline compliments, too. Plus I posted a poem on Facebook and everyone "liked" it.
All these past months that I've been in the editing trenches, plugging away at rewrites no one could see, I knew my work was good. But now I'd come out from the writing cave and others were confirming it. For a week or so I felt a little bit like a celebrity: They would give me a compliment, and I would smile and nod while thinking, thank you, yes, so glad you noticed. You're too kind.
I started taking the compliments personally.
I started to become more and more aware of all the times I wasn't getting compliments.
Why had all the other friend who requested to read my novel not responded? Why was everyone being so harsh on my query letter? (I couldn't please everyone!) Why did my English professor tell me the essay was good, but then not write inline comments detailing exactly which words had so tickled his ear? Why was it good then and not now?
Every time someone told me I was good, I needed someone else to repeat it so that I knew I was still good, just as much as before.
I knew what this was. I knew I'd gotten sucked into praise/rejection issues. Which made it all the more irksome, because knowing didn't change the way I felt.
Alexandra Bracken, author of the amazing Brightly Woven, said this about reviews:
"You get a good review, and it’s like crack. You need another hit. And another. And another. I know authors are like Tinkerbell and generally need applause to survive, but it’s a slippery slope."
I've heard a lot of authors talk about reviews and rejection lately, and Bracken was the one who made me realize this applies to more than book reviews, more than form rejection letters. It applies to every stage of the writing process. (And, honestly, life itself.)
The bottom line is this:Other people's praise or criticism can't define whether you're good or not. *We write first to please ourselves.
The caveat to the bottom line is this:If you want others to read your work, you better give some consideration to the things they do and don't like. Because we write secondly to be read.
I think my problem was that I had come from such a place of isolation to a place where I was receiving too much praise all at once. It was overwhelming. I stopped being able to receive it objectively. I started to think of myself as "good" only when others told me so and "bad" the rest of the time.
Whereas normally, when I've had a little more time to adjust and balance, I remember to evaluate my work on a professional basis. At that point criticism is either helpful or unhelpful; praise either deserved, or unwarranted.
When you look at authors like J.K Rowling and Stephanie Meyer in their interviews, it feels like they have a mask on. This makes sense to me. At some point you have to block everything--both criticism, and praise, if you want to continue on.
There's nothing wrong with enjoying praise. But needing it is when we start to get in trouble. So go away, back to your own writing cave, and figure out why you once thought you were good or bad or whatever. Then--and here's the part that never, ever changes--write to improve.
Truly and always,
*When I say 'we write to please ourselves' I'm referring to the fact that we usually write books we enjoy, the way we enjoy them, because we are our first readers.