Perils of Praise in a Writing Practice

JordanA Writer's Guide to Persistence, Business of Writing

“Sweet words are like honey, a little may refresh, but too much gluts the stomach.” — Anne Bradstreet

Who doesn’t like to hear how wonderful, talented, compelling, interesting, smart, valid or poetic their writing is? Praise comes in like a sweet scent and leaves you feeling lifted, euphoric, even purposeful. And in small doses, it’s tremendously motivating and we all need a little lift from time to time.

However, to a writer, just like any potentially addictive substance, praise is dangerous  and demands vigilance in yourself. Why? Why shouldn’t you revel in these moments of pleasure when someone bestows upon you external value or approval? You should appreciate them the same way you appreciate the nose, hair, teeth or other attributes you were born with but which you didn’t control–you can appreciate it but with a grain of salt. Praise does not a writing practice make. A writing practice is deepened and fulfilled when you acknowledge your own value and worth first, and most often, but more so, look beyond praise into deepening the work.

Once you’ve had that hit of praise, it’s very easy to seek it out, to, in fact, depend upon it to proceed with your creative projects. It can become so necessary that any critique feels hollow and harsh, pushing you away from doing necessary work toward finding flattery. And let me reassure you, if it’s flattery you seek, there will always be someone there to push it.

Praise does not stretch you, improve your weaknesses, or bolster you through tough times. Praise is unreliable, full of hollow promises of “more” in the future. And at worst, it sets you up to feel incapable when it doesn’t show up. It is a fair-weather friend that says more about the giver of the praise than it does your work. For instance, there will always be someone who loves your message, style and turn of phrase, and someone who absolutely loathes it. The reasons behind why will vary so vastly from personal experience to bad moods that to try and figure it out is an exercise in madness.

The only value worth anything is your own. Now, this is not to say that you should scribble something down and call it a masterpiece. Having a writing practice means that you reach beyond praise toward making something that moves people, leaves a trace, has an impact. And all good art that does so takes work.

You’ll rarely hear me talk about a writing “career” and almost always about “practice” over and over again. This isn’t because I want you to end up a pauper; I fully believe a creative writing practice can also sustain you financially if that’s where you strive to take it. But it won’t do that on praise alone.

So be brave: seek to push yourself, stretch beyond your comfortable boundaries, and most of all, do not rely upon praise to fuel you.

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JordanPerils of Praise in a Writing Practice