The Danger of Gold Stars

I once asked the question on my blog, ‘Why do you write?’. Mostly, it appears, we write for ourselves. It’s something we’d do even if we knew we’d never get published (affirmed by a poll on Critique Circle).

We’re writers; we write.

We also write because we have something to say that we think is of value. I make no secret of the fact that I want my writing to be meaningful, even life-changing (‘though to only a small degree is enough) – and yet I still don’t understand why. Why do I want to make a difference, and how exactly do I think writing fiction will do that? It’s something I’m still exploring, and for now I have no answers.

However, there was another reason that came up that I can discuss right now. It’s writing for self-affirmation, or, as one reader put it, writing for gold stars.

Is there anything wrong with wanting public affirmation of your talent, your thoughts, and, inevitably in writing, your self?

No.

Is there anything wrong with that being the entire (or primary) reason you write?

Yes.

Materialism can cause low self-esteem, but here’s a newsflash: so can relying on other people’s opinions. In any course in life, but particularly in the writing business, putting all your hopes in gold stars can be dangerous. Writing is a brutal game, and if your self esteem is completely tied to your work, then even time someone rejects your work, you’ll feel like they’re rejecting you – and that can lead you to an unpleasant place.

A leadership/mentoring seminar I once attended described self esteem like this:

Self esteem = what you think people you respect think of you.

Read it again. It’s what you think others that you respect think of you. If that’s the case, then how do you have any control over it? Can you ever control your own self esteem, or are you doomed to dependence on those around you? If your work is one of the more important aspects of your self, and other reject it, how can you ever have a good self esteem?

Look at the equation closely. There is one aspect you can control.

Mostly, you can’t control what you think other people think. You get that impression from their actions, their words, and their general attitude. Sure, sometimes we can get it wrong, but on the whole, it’s pretty hard to convince yourself that someone likes you when they’re making it obvious that they don’t.

What you can control is found in the key phrase, ‘who you respect’. People whom you have no respect for aren’t important to you; their opinions don’t matter. So how to you take control of your self esteem?

Choose carefully who you will respect.

Have standards. Require those whose input you receive to meet those standards (though don’t be perfectionistically impossible, naturally!!). And don’t make the mistake of thinking that because one person has respectable opinions in one area, they will in another: I can tell you what I think of your writing, but please don’t ask me to tell you if you’re a good basketball player or not.

Which brings us back to writing.

Although much of what you put into your writing comes from you, ultimately, it isn’t you. When you ask people for criticism of your work – or when they give it to you anyway – you’re not asking them to critique YOU. They’re qualified to crit your work; they’re not qualified (mostly) to crit you.

Learn to dissociate yourself from criticism – or writing for publication is going to be an arduous slog (which it is anyway) that will break you in the end.

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