As you get older, the praise tapers off. Not only from your parents, but from the world in general. Grades take the place of gold stars on your homework, and the few things that you get praised for require harder and harder work.
Finally, as an adult, praise comes in the form of money. A better job, a raise, a promotion. "Atta boys" are reduced to softball games. Criticism is the primary motivator for self-improvement. Which is fine, because you can't get better unless you know what you're doing wrong.
Writers, and most artists, tend to have gotten stuck in the childhood phase of needing approval.
Art, by definition, requires an audience. So writers are forced to seek approval. Friends and family. A writing group. Agents. Editors. Reviewers. Critics. Fans. Peers.
And if the artist gets lucky, approval arrives in the form of praise, money, or both.
So does criticism. The publishing world isn't a big refrigerator, and many people aren't interested in giving you gold stars. There will be fan letters and awards nominations, but there will also be bad reviews and people who dislike your work.
It doesn't take a psychiatrist to figure out that a career that requires the continuous approval of others isn't the best way to mental health. Which is why many creative types tend to be a little on the wacko side.
If you're a writer, can you ever feel good about yourself and your work? Can you take pride in a book that never got published? Can you see the worth of a novel that got critically panned?
Or do the fans, the awards, and the money make you somehow better than the rest of the world? Does the fact that you have half a million books in print and a six figure contract function the same way as your picture on the fridge?
Both are slippery slopes, and neither leads anywhere worthwhile. The more people you allow to have power over your feelings, the less in control of your feelings you are.
Here are some rules I follow to stay even-keeled.
- Celebrate success. Whether it is signing a book deal or finishing a short story, you're allowed to feel good about yourself and your accomplishments.
Beware-Feelings of entitlement.
- Let Praise Wash Over You. It's great to have fans, but don't believe your own hype. Having lots of strangers love you doesn't make you a better person.
Beware-Getting a big head.
- Listen to Criticism. But don't take it personally. Ever. Good critcism is meant to help you improve, not hurt you.
Beware-Those who have agendas. They're easy to spot. They are either insulting you, or praising you while asking for money. Remember that money flows toward the writer.
- Have Smart Goals. Smart goals are ones you can control. Everything else isn't a goal---it's a wish. Wishes don't lead to happiness.
Beware-Setting unattainable goals.
- Use Your Support Group. We all need an "atta boy" once and a while. Get this from people you're close to, people you care about. No one else matters.
Beware-Relying on anyone too much.
Allow yourself to be disappointed. Then get over it. Allowing failure to consume you will ruin your career. Take a day or two to feel crummy, then move on.
Beware-Licking wounds instead of working.
Leave Your Name Alone. Checking Amazon ranking, Googling yourself, checkign newsgroups and blogs for mention of you, searching for reviews---this is all external validation by stangers and meaningless.
Don't Compare Yourself to Others. Everyone has a different journey, and there is no competition. Coveting the advances, awards, print runs, and movie deals of your peers isn't going to do you or them any good.
Beware-The green-eyed monster.
- Remember Who You Are. Once you become a public figure, many people will say many things about you. None of them will know you as well as you know yourself. Praise and criticism are external, but true pride comes from within.
Strive to be the kind of person that you admire.
Thanks to Jude, Chidder, Jeri, and J. Carson Black for their suggestions in adding to this blog entry.