I don’t know why my brain does this. Something to do with vulnerability and the brain not quite fancying putting itself out there for judgement in the literary world. Maybe? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m not alone. I’d be hard pressed to find a fellow writer, or indeed any creative, who doesn’t have similar feelings on the regular. Some days are easier. Some days are harder. Unpredictable. The only constant is the cycle you’re stuck in.
And no, it doesn’t help that the industry is riddled with rejection! Of course it’s going to breed these feelings – how can we not internalise that? But bless us, we try to keep out chins up and press on. This community does everything in its power to lift each other with love and support, offering tips and advice on how to deal:
“Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s.”
“The industry is sooooo subjective!”
“You’ve just got to stay strong and have faith!”
How often do we hear the same phrases? How often do we regurgitate them back, to another agonising friend? All the damn time, in my case. And these phrases aren’t wrong. They’re helpful reminders. But there’s certain phrases I haven’t heard that I think ought to be part of that repertoire. Starting with: it is okay to crave external validation.
I don’t understand much about the brain, but I absolutely know that the need for external validation is basic human nature. There’s probably a word for it, my therapist would know — should’ve asked — but that’s not the point. The point is: how we view ourselves is, by design, in part a reflection of how others see us. The same can be said of our work. It is normal and totally not shameful or weak to want others to say “oh hey, I like that writer’s work”. I don’t think we acknowledge this enough, when we’re stuck in our own heads and depressed with our writing. Sometimes it really does feel like the overwhelming rhetoric is to just take our rejections and criticisms, find value in them, and generally just buck up and keep going. Like…no. Hang on a minute. I see why you’d be confused, but I’m not actually Wonder Woman.
Positive reinforcement is crucial. It doesn’t have to be there all the time, but it needs to be there *sometimes*. But sadly it can be very hard to come by in a writer’s world, especially if they are pursuing publication. And when we do get feedback it’s the constructive sort, which is not without value, but when that’s most of what you’re getting, the message your subconscious absorbs is “you’re not good enough”. That has been a huge part of my experience as a writer, and it’s a streak I’m trying hard to break.
I do not believe it is possible to constantly believe in oneself 100% of the time. Sometimes we’re going to feel a bit knocked down because no one has an unbreakable ego. No one’s faith in themselves is unshakeable. Fake news. But oddly enough, perhaps that’s the key to everything. By acknowledging our humanity, by understanding what kind of thoughts your brain tends to concoct and allowing for them, that is how you learn how to deal with them in a healthier way.
I have learned that my self-belief is not moulded by mastery of the human condition, but by seeing it for what it is. My (semi-frequent) feelings of inadequacy come from a lack of external validation – that’s it. They don’t come from fact or reason, they are a product of me not getting enough positive reinforcement.
And once I understood that, I knew that I had to make a habit of refilling that well. Too long had I taken my rejections ‘on the chin’ without balancing them out with a bit of positivity. I had remained too focused on critiques, forcing myself to improve, without taking the time to seek out a positive answer from my readers: ‘hey, what did you really like about my chapter?’
This is why I’m so glad that more and more people in writing communities are offering ‘positivity passes’, which is exactly what it sounds like: a reader offering entirely positive feedback on a sample of a writer’s work. I’m not suggesting this should be the only form of critique you submit your manuscript to, but I definitely think it is an essential part of a writer’s diet!
This is perhaps just my extended way of saying: be kinder to yourself. We, as creatives and as humans, are so damn self-critical while simultaneously expecting so much of ourselves. And I am certainly trying to remember to take that step back when I need to, and goddamn if I need a little bit of a confidence boost in the form of a compliment, that’s okay!
Be kind, go get yourself a positivity pass, offer one to a friend. You need love too, you deserve love too, and I know you’ll get it. Don’t be afraid to ask.
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