Not too long ago, my good friend Julie Carrick Dalton sent me this comic from Chuck Draws Things:
“It reminds me of almost every conversation we’ve ever had,” she said. “Only the roles are interchangeable.”
I always knew I had doubt about my writing, and I always knew she had doubt about her writing, and I knew in this vague, casual way that other writers have doubt about their writing, too. But it wasn’t until I saw this comic that I thought, “Hrm. Maybe there should be more discussion about this whole praise nonsense.”
So I made a thing. Give yourself 1 point every time you answer “yes” and see how you stack up at the end.
1) Are you working hard? Now, of course, this question in itself can be hard to navigate because we love to also belittle our dedication, so let’s break this down:
- Have you sometimes written/researched/planned/outlined/thought about your work even when you didn’t want to?
- Have you been doing this labor in addition to other responsibilities in your life (e.g. kids, pets, a job, two jobs, three jobs, something to do with pie)?
- Have you been doing this labor in addition to other struggles in your life (e.g. lost job, lost apartment, lost loved one, the dumpster fire that is our government)?
- Have you needed to put your work down, only to pick it back up months or years later?
- Have you taken constructive criticism to heart?
- Have you been doing this labor for free and with no true promise or indication that it’ll ever pan out?
If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these sub-questions, you can answer “yes” to the main question.
2) Do you have weaknesses in your craft? That’s cool because it means you’re not a gasbag and can recognize that you do, in fact, have weaknesses. But this also means you have strengths. Recognizing where your weaknesses are will not only help you strengthen them, but it also shows you’re someone who’s capable of reflecting on the parts of you that make you uncomfortable. And that’s not easy. It means you love writing that much.
3) Have you failed (e.g. rejections, embarrassingly bad paragraphs, losing all your files on your computer), only to keep on trying? That’s where good writing comes from and how you’ll make it in this business. Full stop.
4) Are you receiving praise because you’re a marginalized writer? This one can be gross because, you know, inspiration porn is gross. But just because someone’s (potentially) objectifying you in your marginalization doesn’t mean you should overlook the important thing here: You’re a marginalized person, which probably means you’ve been through some shit on top of the regular shit the normals have to deal with. And yet you’re writing a freaking book. Go sit with that for a minute.
5) Are you receiving praise because, something something, affirmative action? Affirmative action is a double-edged sword for marginalized folk. On the one hand, it gives us opportunities we might not’ve otherwise gotten. On the other, we perpetually question whether or not we “deserved” these opportunities and this somehow puts us in an existential crisis for the rest of our days. But the question isn’t whether or not you deserved what you were just given, but what you’re going to do now that you have it. Even if you’re convinced it was given to you by a mistake, grab it, hug it to your chest, and run like hell to the nearest cool idea you have. Because I guarantee you that you’re going to do awesome stuff with this opportunity, stuff that nobody else would’ve been able to do.
So how many points did you end up with? Statistics show that if you have at least five—OH SHIT PLOT TWIST. Turns out if you answered “yes” to any one of these questions, then you’re deserving of praise. The magical stone was just a rock and the magic was inside you all along!
So knock it off and go back to that thing you were working on. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.