Lately I've been noticing a trend of mine when it comes to my writing: I believe every negative word someone says about it. I have no problem taking criticism; rejection notes and editing notes all ring true to me—unless it's something that really feels fundamentally wrong, like a rejection I got once saying Belphagor and Vasily's love story was a distraction that weakened The House of Arkhangel'sk. That kind of note I can look at objectively and realize the reader was simply the wrong reader for me. But if the criticism is that I didn't create strong enough goals, or a character's motivations aren't clear, or the writing isn't captivating enough, or a character is too passive, or any of those reasonable sounding, justifiable criticisms, I take them straight to heart. Because who am I to read such criticism and decide it doesn't apply to me? It seems like the height of arrogance for me to dismiss any of it, particularly if it's coming from a professional in the industry. They know their business. If they didn't love my story, it's because I failed.
Then there's praise. I've received it from critique partners and beta readers. I receive it in abundance from my wonderful agent. But I tend to think these people are a bit prejudiced. I mean, yes, they'll tell me when reading a draft if something doesn't work, but they like my work and I already know that going into it. Still, for the most part, I can accept that praise, though there is a point where I begin to dissociate from it. Sure, sure, I tell myself. They liked it. Maybe they even liked it a lot. But they know me and they know I need external validation to keep going. And if it's particularly high praise, I start to feel like I'd be a conceited jerk if I actually take it to heart.
And then there's praise from people who don't have a vested interest in boosting my ego. As much as I crave it, that really wigs me out. I recently received a blurb from one of my favorite writers that knocked my socks off. It didn't come out of the blue; I asked if she would consider reading the manuscript and giving it a blurb. Obviously, I was hoping she would like it and say nice things.
But here's the thing: I find myself cringing just posting that link. I'm not sure I can even complete this blog post. I don't think I have the right to believe that praise, let alone tell someone else about it.
Now, I'm not totally crazy. A more reasonable part of me is smacking the back of my head in frustration. Do I honestly think everyone who says anything positive about my writing is blowing smoke up my ass? Of course not. But who am I to read such praise and believe it applies to me?
Clearly, I have a strange relationship with my writing. It means everything to me, and I long to be good at it and to have others think so too. And at the same time I get physically ill at the thought of sharing my work with someone for the first time. The conversation between my loony personalities goes something like this:
Self 1: What if they hate it?
Self 2: Shut up. Why would they hate it? It's a good story!
Self 1: Oh, so now you're the arbiter of good fiction? You can't possibly know if it's any good. That's for them to say. And they'll probably hate it.
Self 3: Oh my God. I hate you both.
Yeah, I didn't say it was pretty.
Okay, writer friends: tell me I'm not alone. This is normal-crazy, right? Right?? Anyone? Beuller?