Thursday, August 16, 2007


Posted by Lynne

I edge my way into the train and maneuver the crowd with my shoulders until I'm the one who takes possession of the last seat. Scrunched between a man with a briefcase and a woman with backpack, I settle in for my twenty minute ride to Boston. With an elbow in my ribs and a loud snap, I see the commuters on either side of me digging around for their books. They each pull out one all too familiar. It's mine.

The woman opens the back of the book, looks closely at my picture and pokes me again in the ribs. "Hey, you're the author of this book. I love the writing. And you know what? This book has changed my family."

It's a fantasy. A dream. When I was young, I imagined countless ways I would accept my Oscar or Tony. Now I envision grateful readers; parents who embrace my thinking about children. And of course I'd love them to love the writing.

I'm willing to admit it. Like Sally Field, I want praise, positive feedback--a spot of adulation. I don't see anything wrong with wanting validation, after all the hard work that went into writing and marketing my book.

We've all heard writers say it's the work that matters, not the critics opinions, accolades or awards. While I know being satisfied with the quality of my writing is paramount, I can honestly say I need a measure of approval to carry on.

In this three steps forward, two steps back business, I collect each endorsement like
treasure, saving it for a down day or discouraged moment. I'm the type to review each rejection or criticism, scouring it for the glimmer of encouragement. After a day filled with oodles of self-sacrifice, I accept a friend's comforting word or loving touch. And when I achieve a goal or reach a milestone, I share my news and encourage my loved ones to celebrate with me.

I don't see this as self-aggrandizing, though I suppose some do. In our writers' group meetings we're committed to complimenting each others work first. We are honest to a fault about what isn't working with a piece, only after we have highlighted what does.

I'm not suggesting sugar-coating anything. I can handle critical feedback. Yet if becoming a better writer means I must swallow the bitter pills, then I do want a little candy. I believe on balance, praise dotted with criticism will push a writer further than feedback the other way around. Certainly every writer needs both; I don't have any trouble acknowledging I need the positive.


Lisa said...

All writers seek validation. If we didn't, we'd stick to private journaling. Probably the only difference from one writer to the next is what form the validation takes. Is it enough to be published? Is it enough to get letters and emails from appreciative readers or does the book need to be received with vast critical acclaim? An appearance on Oprah? Pre-publication, it's amazing to me how little it takes keep me going. A published novelist at the recent retreat I went to spontaneously mentioned to me on the last day that he liked my writing. It was based on hearing very little of it, but it made my day. I'm lying. It has sustained me since then. Now I look with hope to the upcoming critiques I'll get in a workshop I'm in. I'm sure there will be plenty of suggestions as to how I can improve and I'm ready to hear them, but it doesn't prevent me from fantasizing that they'll all think my writing is simply the best, most innovative thing they've ever heard :)

kristen spina said...

I agree with Lisa. Very often it doesn't take much to inspire me, to keep the fingers tapping, so to speak. I welcome opportunities for true critical feedback—the kind of comments that will push me farther along in my craft—but I get a lot of mileage out of a casual remark, a simple, "I loved what you wrote..."

Lynne Reeves Griffin said...

Lisa and Kristen,

Isn't it true that a little goes a long way! I once wrote several chapters on one comment from a teacher I admire. Thanks for sharing.