My Dad has always said to me, ‘don’t pay any more attention to the people that praise you than you would to the people that bring you down.’ Perhaps he is right. As writers, the best thing we can do is listen to our own hearts, and don’t let anyone else judge whether what we have created is worthy of existence.
But there’s a little problem in that, and it’s called human nature.
I don’t know about you, dear reader who’s a writer, but when someone acclaims me as a genius, or tells me that my creation is perhaps the most brilliant piece of art since Michelangelo chipped away at a marble block for three years (okay that’s never happened, but just go with it), my first reaction is to assess them as incredibly astute, insightful and honest.
Conversely, when someone offers even a mild criticism of my work – regardless of whether it’s carefully considered, constructively couched and apologetically delivered – I bristle. My hackles rise and the taste of bile fills my throat. How dare they presume to criticise my sublime creation? Why would a person take the time to try and destroy my fragile artist’s ego with such an insane, inappropriate and unwarranted attack?
A surplus, a surfeit or even an extravagance of adjectives? The unruly insertion of adverbs? ‘Overuse’ of punctuation?!? Pretentious? Fragments? My god, why don’t you just take me out the back and stab me! Why must you drag my name through the mud like that? Are you so jealous of my towering talent that you have to resort to this petty carping? And so on etcetera.
But am I being reasonable when I react in this way? Should I just take my Dad’s advice on board? The truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle.
Take compliments, and yes, allow that little glow of self-satisfaction to creep over you. You’ve earned it. But assess them properly. For instance, when someone tells me that one or other of my books or stories is ‘well written’, I ask myself, ‘does that mean the story is crap? Or is Mum just being nice?’
Look for the hidden meaning (or the hidden agenda) in any praise – especially if it’s high praise. And if it’s truly justified, take it, but don’t dwell on it: it won’t make you a better writer.
And when people, particularly those not related to you, offer genuine criticism of your work, try not to take it personally, but do try and see what they’re saying from their perspective. Even if it seems harsh or unjustified when you first read it, there are more than likely a few large grains of truth in there. Use it to improve your work, but don’t let it ruin your day.
All authors have egos, and we’re all in this business because we like to have them stroked. But dealing with both good and bad feedback is a part of the business, so try and do it with equanimity. Then teach me how.