Therese here. Today’s guest is K.M. Weiland, who writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. Katie enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, editing services, workshops, and her recently released instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration. She is also blog mama at her own site, Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors, which was named–along with Writer Unboxed–as one of the top ten blogs for writers by Write to Done. We’re thrilled she’s here with us today to discuss the pitfalls of praise. Enjoy!
The 4 Pitfalls of Praise
What author doesn’t enjoy logging on to Amazon and finding a positive review or checking his inbox and receiving an email from a gushing fan? “I love your story”—four little words that spread grins across our faces, create warm little flutters in our stomachs, and tickle our feet into moon dancing around the room.
However, as wonderful as praise can be, we need to keep in mind a few of the pitfalls, the warning signs that indicate we might be about to take a tumble, and the prescriptions for mending our wounds in the aftermath.
Pitfall #1: Arrogance
Warning Signs: You start believing every word of those good reviews is the gospel truth. Suddenly, you’re the world’s greatest writer, endowed with the ability to turn words to gold with nothing more than your bare hands and a ballpoint pen. You’re already as close to perfection as it’s possible to come without blinding yourself, so you certainly don’t need to bother editing your latest draft. After all, your readers would no doubt be willing to read the phone book if you wrote it.
Rx: Dig yourself up a reality check, quick! If you’re lucky, a critical review will come along right about now and burst your bubble. Otherwise, your best chance of recovery is to learn to ignore excessive praise with the same amount of tenacity you use in ignoring unwarranted criticism. Both represent extreme viewpoints, and, taken at face value, neither will help you grow as an author.
Pitfall #2: Complacency
Warning Signs: You start believing it’s safe for you to rest on your laurels. Since readers are obviously pleased with your work at its current level, you certainly don’t need to bother studying the craft or striving to make your next story even better.
Rx: You’re on the fast track to nowhere with this attitude; better jump tracks while you still can. As poet Pris Campbell points out, “I’ve learned to accept [praise], then ignore it, and remind myself that this still isn’t the best I can do.” Block out the good reviews for a while, roll up your sleeves, and get back to work. There’s nothing like an edit of your latest draft to remind you of your writing’s flaws.
Pitfall #3: Unrealistic expectations
Warning Signs: Now that you have a handful of good reviews under your belt, you’re starting to expect all the reviews to be full of high praise. Reviewers or critique partners who lob criticism obviously don’t know what they’re talking about. Either they didn’t read your story closely enough, or they’re just too dumb to get it.
Rx: It’s time to realize you’re doing both your reviewers/critters and yourself a disservice. The subjective nature of art gives everyone’s opinion a valid basis. Even if you end up deciding an opinion doesn’t jive with your own vision for your work, that’s no reason not to give it due consideration. Furthermore, don’t gyp yourself of the opportunity to learn about both your strengths and your weaknesses from an objective source.
Pitfall #4: Misplaced priorities
Warning Signs: When you sit down to write, you find yourself pondering how you can shape this latest story so that it will garner another round of warm fuzzies from your readers. You’ve become so addicted to the thrill of praise that you’ve lost sight of what writing is really about.
Rx: Shut off the computer and plug your ears whenever anyone starts to say something nice about your writing. It’s time for you to take some time away from the influence of your readers and reacquaint yourself with the reasons you started writing in the first place. Enjoying deserved accolades can definitely be a legitimate reason, but don’t let your other priorities (such as being true to your own vision for your stories rather than what you think readers want) get knocked aside.
So long as we see praise for what it is—the subjective opinions of readers who may or may not be qualified to judge quality literature—we can both enjoy the sweet fruits of our labor and still keep things in perspective as we strive to make our next story even more praiseworthy.