Praise is a Dangerous Thing for Authors

I received a hand-written note from someone today. In it, it said this:

“You are a very gifted writer.”

I don’t want to hear this. Stop it right now! This is a blatant attempt to allow my ego to take over and make self-congratulatory remarks. I can hear myself already: “I am pretty awesome.” “It’s so obvious. Why doesn’t the rest of the world know yet?”

Before I go any further, I would like to say that, of course, this note meant the world to me. It was a sincere compliment, talking specifically about the show that this person watched last week. I’m grateful. Touched, really. Humbled.

But I can’t let it mean anything to me. I can’t let this praise get into my head. I need to keep beating myself up over my poor writing skills. I need to live in the writing doldrums, where everyone catches a breeze except me. I’m paddling an aircraft carrier with a broken oar. And it’s not working. I’m starting to sink. And I get depressed every time I look at my writing.

That’s what I need to hear. The danger is real. If a writer was to rest on the proverbial laurels, take in the accolades, and suddenly get lazy in his writing, well, then, game-over.

I can’t afford to listen to such talk. I have a task ahead of me: be creative, really creative, stretch my language skills, look at the world in new ways, edit and re-edit and re-edit the re-edit. This is no time to relax and congratulate myself.

I have stories to tell and characters to create, and they are depending on me. They don’t want to be some shoddy action figure to a cardboard backdrop. They need to be real. The only way to be real is for me to face the facts. Writing is hard. It’s never finished. I’ll never be as talented as others. I’ll never be this or that, but I will be one thing. I’ll be a dedicated writer. I’ll develop my craft and create stories which are worthy of my time and effort.

And the only way I can do that is to not let my guard down. So buck it up, writer. Don’t look at what you’ve done in the past. Don’t re-read those 5-star reviews. This is no time to get soft. Dig in and tell the best story of your life.

PS: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

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