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The Trap of Needing Approval

It’s very easy, as a writer, to fall into the trap of needing to be praised.

However, if your need to be important, to be admired and to be praised, reaches a point where it dominates your art, you will likely be unsuccessful. Your creative decisions might be wrong. Readers could lose respect for you. You can lose reputation and potential income.

If you need the admiration of others to be happy as a writer — or indeed, in life — you can easily become addicted to admiration like a drug and lose sight of things that really matter.

Admiration as an addiction powers some people’s lives. They plan where they live, buy houses and cars, create their lives based on acquiring status in the eyes of others. They marry unsuitable partners based on ‘looking good’ in the eyes of others; they choose careers founded on popularity, not because they love the work. This applies to writers too: they adopt routines, styles, genres, and habits based on what they think will get them liked (or the most ‘Likes’ on social media) rather than striking out in new directions, maintaining integrity and writing what they love.

Being liked is great! Of course it feels good to be admired. But to seek approval and admiration as a goal can ruin your writing career, as well as your family and your life.

Why exactly?

When you base your life n the viewpoints of others:

1. You need positive feedback from others to feel happy.

Instead of developing your own inner ‘happiness generator’ based on your own criteria, you become dependent upon positive responses from others to get that emotional buzz. It’s great to get good feedback, but even better to get a sense of satisfaction from knowing inwardly that you have done a good job.

2. Others learn they can control you by praising you or criticising you.

As soon as you become dependent upon external feedback, you can be taken advantage of. You can be praised and made to feel important but end up working for less than you're worth.

3. You avoid making creative or commercial choices that might make you unpopular.

For example, you alter a story to be more conventional because you do not want to be unpopular with readers. Or you give away lots of work because you don’t want to be unpopular with customers by charging them money.

4. Without external validation, you start to introvert and become overly self-critical.

Once you’re hooked on validation from others, things don’t stay static. If you don’t get enough praise or admiration, you can start to feel something must be wrong with you. Without your ‘fix’ of praise, your sense of integrity can begin to destabilise.

5. Working for admiration can take up valuable time and attention.

You might find yourself working for little or no pay just to acquire fleeting praise, rather than focusing on more valuable, long-term objectives.

6. To ensure that you are liked by the masses, you follow trends and never break into personal success outside those trends.

Many famous authors are famous because they wrote unique things that were at first rejected but which went on to found whole genres and sub-genres in literature. If you follow trends for fear of alienating a reading public, you may never find — or create— your own reading public.

So how do you break the ‘needing praise’ habit? Here are some suggestions:

Constantly improve your opinion of yourself.

This comes from setting your own targets and beating them, having your own set of criteria and adhering to it, and dismissing negativity from your life generally. Part of that is recognising that having a higher opinion of yourself does not mean having a lower opinion of others. Seek rather to admire others and their work in equal quantities to yourself and your own work. It’s a peculiarly healthy approach.

Clearly determine — write down if necessary — what is right for you, your family, your group.

Failure to do this leaves a vacuum, into which inevitably creeps ‘what’s right for others’.

Select aims that have nothing to do with personal glory or fame.

Seeking to be ‘a bestselling author’ leaves you wide open to following mass trends and desiring the approval of others. Instead, seek to better your writing style, to learn the craft of writing, to pump out a large amount of work over a year, and to research the market thoroughly to find out where your best work fits and so on.

Do what is right, not what you will be applauded for.

This isn’t always easy, as sometimes doing what’s right earns you not only no applause but disapprobation and rejection. But if this is based on personal integrity rather than just stubbornness or an unwillingness to listen, you will gradually build up a ‘head of steam’ in terms of self-respect, which will stand you in good stead.

Rather than simply praising others, give detailed, honest and as positive as possible feedback.

This will encourage the same thing coming back to you — which is far more valuable than shallow praise.

Let me know how you go. I am here to help and support you.


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