Monday, August 25, 2014

Seeking Validation As A Writer

 In her book Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts for Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind (public library) Anna Deavere Smith writes:

"The life of an artist is not a state of "being". It even sounds pretentious, sometimes, to call oneself blanketly "an artist". It's not up to you or me to give ourselves that title. A doctor becomes a doctor because he or she is formally given an MD. A scholar in the university is formally given a PhD, a counselor an LLD, a hairstylist a license, and so forth.

We are on the fringe, and we don’t get such licenses. There are prizes and rewards, popularity and good or bad press. But you have to be your own judge. That, in and of itself, takes discipline, and clarity, and objectivity. Given the fact that we are not “credentialed” by any institution that even pretends to be objective, it is harder to make our guild. True, some schools and universities give a degree for a course of study. But that’s a business transaction and ultimately not enough to make you an artist.” 

So these words made me think. All artists seek validation. But who provides the validation? Who decides whether a writer has "made it" or when a writer has "made it"? Where does your sense of worth as a writer come from?

Being an artist isn’t valued the way it should be in our society. And it seems that writers are THE most insecure bunch. Why are writers so hesitant to claim the title of writer? Have you ever met a dancer, singer or actor who waits for permission to be declared a dancer, singer or actor? No. But writers seem to wait for permission. We cannot run away from the fact that there is a tendency to invalidate creators on a regular basis.

They say that those who are insecure about their work possess the most potential and have a powerful tool in their hands. How do you explain this? Well it's something along these lines: those who know the least speak the loudest, those who are the most qualified keep quiet because they question themselves and the world; the more we learn about life, or our various pursuits, the more the wisest among us realize how little we actually know. This in turn leads to insecurity in life.

The concept of validation is different for each person. Some writers are validated by their contracts and others by seeing their books in print. Some are validated by reviews, while others are validated by peer recognition. 


http://thyblackman.com/2013/07/30/seeking-validation-in-all-of-the-wrong-places/


For me, the validation that is most important, is that my writing connects with readers. What about you?

40 comments:

J.L. Campbell said...

Hi, Michelle,

Even now, I don't tell people that I'm a writer. It usually comes up by accident in conversation.

In the early days, validation came for me when the newspaper started publishing my stories and when a publisher said yes.

Nowadays, it's knowing that a reader is crazy about the stories I write.

Jennifer Lane said...

Connecting with readers is an important validation, yes, especially when readers tell me my books made them laugh or cry. Sales are another validation, and unfortunately I feel very invalidated in that realm ha!

Christine Rains said...

Great post! My confidence goes up and down. When an editor picks up my story or a reader leaves a wonderful review, it does boost my confidence. Yet I know when I'm feeling happy with my writing myself, those are the best days.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Connecting with readers of any kind is what matters.

Murees Dupé said...

I agree, connecting with readers is important to me as well.

I always wince when fellow writers read my work, mostly because they don't like it. But if my target audience does, it is all good.

Awesome post.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Art is so subjective, which is why it's easy not to feel validated. If you create something and someone says it's not very good, we don't feel qualified to call ourselves an artist.

cleemckenzie said...

The best I feel is when a young or old reader tells me I caught them up in my story and they appreciated that I wrote it.

I know my writing doesn't appeal to everyone--it shouldn't. Still rejection is hard. I try to keep my work separate from me--not easy, right? But I tell myself they aren't rejecting me. They aren't validating me. They are reacting to what I create.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

A big paycheck would validate me but in place of that, I believe myself a writer but feel I have so many ways I must get improve.

Denise Covey said...

Writers write...validation enough, but it will be good to have a print book in hand, cuz that's what validates us to non~writers.

Patricia Lynne said...

I think most of my validation comes in readers. Knowing they enjoyed the story gives me the warm fuzzies.

Lynda R Young said...

I definitely think it's different for everyone. Not everyone writes to connect. Some people write to simply explore a concept, for therapy, etc. There are so many different reasons. Concequently, there are an equal amount of different sources of validation. And you're right--only we can tell ourselves what that validation is. Great post, Michelle.

krystal jane said...

Yeah, I pretty much feel better about myself when other people tell me I'm great. Lol!

But I'm all about owning being a writer until someone who isn't a writer calls me one. Then I get all bashful and noncommittal and shruggy. ^_^

G. B. Miller said...

Validation for me is pretty simple: if a person who reads my story and not only likes it, but tells me why they liked it, that is validation for me.

Father Nature's Corner

Julie Musil said...

Oh, this is soooo true! Thankfully we writers can validate each other. Great post, Michelle.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Michelle - it's interesting what you're saying ... I guess authors need to write their work of passion - the one they so want to write ... yet also contribute short stories, articles to the local papers, magazines ... and blog - it's slowly getting recognised ... but some will be happy with just writing.

I was thinking of an artist doing a sketch ... it's sort of adding value to our work and in the process getting accepted - but finding lots of outlets ...

I'm just glad I get complementary comments - keeps me happy .. but I need to spread my wings.

Good luck to one and all .. cheers Hilary

msfeistus said...

Honestly, it's communicating with fellow writers and getting honest feedback and keeping up a conversation that makes me feel the most validated ... In most other fields, people have co-workers of some stripe, but writers are by and large going it alone for most of the process. So I feel the most validated when there are even one or two people I can reach out to so that we can say to one another "hey, this needs work, but this part here is really neat, and I would like more". I used to think it was about being in Actual Published Print, but now I realize it's more about the connections that writing forges, both between the readers and the writers.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

It's readers. Writers, and forgive me for saying this, are a hard bunch to please when it comes to validating one's work. They're there if you need encouragement or support, but that's generally a different type of community. Rather than risk stretching this into more than it should be, let me finish with this: I think when it comes to product, the hardest to please is another writer, if that writer is a total stranger.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

It could also be that I'm in a weird mood today.

Toinette Thomas said...

I try not to seek validation. I've found that when I put something out there without expections I am blessed with acceptance (someone reads my work), and when I'm not, no harm is done...But I'm human and the validation of praise is always lingering. I want people to not only read my work, but to like it.

Michelle Wallace said...

Joy, because you already have a string of books to your credit, I would never have guessed that you don't tell people that you're a writer.

Jennifer, validation via sales won't hurt LOL

Christine, since you are such a prolific writer, I'm trying to imagine you with low confidence - probably more highs than lows?

Alex, yes, absolutely; I'm a "traditional" reader, in the sense that I prefer my stories grounded in reality, yet I've taken a liking and connected to space opera genre through your stories...

Murees, we have to remember that we can NEVER please everybody.

L.Diane, subjectivity... yes, that explains it perfectly!

C.Lee, that's a great way of thinking about it, they are 'reacting' to your creation (I didn't think of it that way... we can actually argue that it has nothing to do with validation/non-validation)

Susan, a definite thumbs-up to a big paycheck!

Denise, thanks for mentioning this significant point, namely, a print book validates us to non-writers.

Patricia, all writers love to bask in those warm fuzzies!

Lynda, yes, it's different for everyone, and that's also why our insecurities come in a variety of forms, shapes & sizes...

Krystal, you are generally upbeat and always have loads of writerly stuff to chat about, so I'm trying to picture you as bashful and noncommittal and shruggy...

A.B.Miller, it's as straightforward as that, I agree.

Julie, your recent book release means that you've been validated twice now. Congrats!

Hilary, lots of bloggers/writers connect with and enjoy your eclectic and highly informative & entertaining blog posts, which is strong validation... and when you spread your wings and try new things, then that would be further validation opportunities...

msfeistus, connections between the readers and the writers; yes, let's not forget about the writerly connections too... and I'm so grateful to have connected with lots of wonderful and supportive writers.

Joylene, makes perfect sense; but isn't it because writers become so immersed in the craft, that when they are reading, then it's very difficult to shed the "writerly hat"...?

Toinette, the human factor means that we take it personally when an individual doesn't like our work, but maybe that person is not part of the target audience for that particular work...?

M. C. Muir said...

I think besides requiring a complex answer, the answer is an enigma.

When my first book was published (through a London publishing house) I was proud and rather boastful, in introducing myself as an author. And following the advice of other authors, I sought publicity and promotion by offering myself to local meeting, libraries, clubs to present myself and my work. In my eyes, having had one book published, I had succeeded - I was a writer.

But slowly, as the number of published books increased, my enthusiasm and confidence in my ability diminished. I started comparing myself with top-selling authors and realised I was never going to make the big time.

Now, after 10 years of writing and being published, and self-publishing my work, I don't promote myself. And unless people ask a direct question, I don't mention that I'm an author, and when I do I find it slightly embarrassing.

I don't know why that should be.

Validation is something you allow yourself only when you feel you have made it, and in the meantime you keep striving to reach that goal.

Lady Lilith said...

I agree with you. If not for our viewers our work would be missing something. I really appreciate my comments and validates. It gives me more confidence to move forward.

Lynda Dietz said...

You bring up a good point: those who know the least are usually the first to claim they know the most. The writers I've worked with who are the most insecure are the ones who work the hardest at putting out a high-quality product.

It is hard to separate our work from our identities. But it's better to decide who you are before someone else decides for you. Society's standards for what makes greatness are constantly changing, and you'd be forever in a state of flux.

Shell Flower said...

It's hard to feel like a writer when there are so many amazing authors in history and even our contemporaries blowing our minds with wonderful writing.

Crystal Collier said...

I think validation can fluctuate from day to day, in where we seek it, in what we need to hear. Truth, I just wish we'd all stop being so insecure. ;)

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

That's a toughie. I haven't figured it out yet.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Years ago, I can't remember which blog post I read that said to do this, but it stuck with me and it's helped.
For validation - write a little. Then, look in the mirror and say "I am a writer." Don't say, "I will be a writer when" just say "I am a writer." Say it over and over until you believe it.
It's more of a psychological trick to validation than anything else, but I think it helps.
Getting my first book out didn't validate me as much as writing every day and telling myself that I'm a writer.

S.P. Bowers said...

Because there is so much rejection and uncertainty in 'the arts' I think we need to be responsible for our own validation. We have to decide what makes it worth it, and if we should keep going. When we take responsibility for our own validation, we know we'll be doing what we want. Of course, outside validation is good too. :)

Cathrina Constantine said...

It took me a long time to say I'm a writer, even after my first book was published.
When the rejections pile up it's hard to believe in yourself or your writing ability.
The BEST part of being a writer is hearing someone tell me how much they like the story I've written.

SittieCates said...

This is such a lovely post, Michelle!

Validation comes in different packages. But I agree with you, being able to establish that writer-reader connection through one's work is the best and most important validation.

Lori L MacLaughlin said...

Great post! Very thought-provoking. I write novels that I enjoy reading. When I get them self-published and can hold the books in my hands, that will be validation enough for me that I am a writer. I will have accomplished my goal of seeing my books in print. Any positive reviews would be icing on the cake. I'm not into comparing my books/sales with others out there. I will be a writer in my eyes and that's all I need.

Eva Prokop said...

I've never called myself a writer. If I've said anything at all about it, it's just that I'm someone who 'likes to write'. I guess that could be called lack of confidence..but I don't write all day long, it's not how I make a living, (even though I wish it was!), and I've never been paid for it.
It's really difficult to make a living in any of the arts, and I think that's what a lot of us use as a guide...if you make a living at writing, acting, painting, dancing...whatever the art is, then you 'are' a writer, actor, painter, dancer, etc....
I don't know though...there is something to be said, I suppose, for the idea of just calling yourself a writer,saying it till you belief it and all that, but I'd rather spend that time writing something.
The world is filled with people who 'believe' that they are one thing or another, but when it comes down to it, they're really not good at whatever it is they think they are...I mean, I'm not knocking having self confidence, but it's also important to learn your craft, whatever it may be. Knowing you are actually good at something breeds it's own self confidence.
There are cases too, of people who are mediocre at best, at whatever their 'craft' is, and for whatever reason, they hit it big...they have all the confidence in the world, but they're still no good at what they do...but no one cares...people eat it up.
I guess this is the long way of saying, I really don't know the answers!

Donna Hole said...

Thank you Michelle. I needed this pep-talk.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Lady, i really hope you're right because I may well be a writing genius. If my awareness of my serious lack of knowledge is a good sign, then yay!

On a serious note, I don't know why it is so hard to feel validated. I keep moving the bar. I used to say, if I can get a contract, then if I hold my book, then it was the reviews...now I want numbers...if I can get the right numbers. Maybe it will never end and I will die feeling like an imposter when I say, "I am a writer."

But I suppose that's all right...it means I died a genius!

Michelle Wallace said...

M.C.Muir, 10 years of writing and publishing (including self-pub) is a stretch and you've obviously put a LOT of hard work into it, yet you still find it slightly embarrassing... proof that it's really an enigma!

Lady Lilith, yes, the viewers/readers play a large role in the validation process...

Lynda Dietz, that's another perspective which influences the whole concept of validation, and that's the ever-changing societal standards, which leads me to conclude that we shouldn't rule out the fickleness of human nature when we consider external validation... mmm, that's another topic for another day...

Shell Flower, you are so right when you mention our contemporaries who blow our minds with their amazing writing, as they release one book after another... but also remember, we are not aware of all the hard work put in behind the scenes...

Crystal, it's an ever-changing "beast", hey? Insecurity is here to stay... maybe a dose of cheese will help...?

Holly Sinclair, it IS a toughie... and even though I DID mention that, for me, the important validation is connecting with readers, I have to be honest and ask myself, is it THAT straightforward/simple...?

Tyrean, it's the self-fulfilling prophecy! Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits... which should result in GOOD writerly habits...?

S.P.Bowers, taking responsibility is a good starting point!

Cathrina, hearing someone tell you how much they like the story you've written... yes, the long term goal IS to attract readers, so that makes perfect sense.

Sittie, different packages for different writers? I'm just thinking... that would be determined by different writerly needs/goals/expectations...?

Lori, writers are constantly reminded NOT to compare, but always seem to do so...

Eva, you nailed it with your insightful response! And you confirmed one thing - is there one correct answer? Who really knows the answer?

Donna, you're welcome!

Elizabeth, ...and there's nothing wrong with that! I love your train of thought and tip my hat to your "impending posthumous genius!" LOL

Jennifer Chandler said...

This is such a fantastic post. Yes, we DO look for validation. For a long time I wouldn't say I was a writer because that statement was inevitably followed with, "What have you published?" The answer: nothing. Yet. The minute you say that, people walk away, shut you out. You're not a "real" writer to the world until you have a "real" book to prove it.

BUT I now tell people I"m a writer and when they ask, I tell them "nothing yet but I'm working on several projects". And you know what? They ask about those projects and then about the process to publication. It opens doors when you're honest AND when you're confident enough to say, "I just don't know!"

Thanks for commenting on my blog the other day BTW. I just got back into town and I'm playing catch-up!

Cheers,
Jen

KAT Writer said...

Great post. It is true that without being published I am hesitant to say that I am a writer.

My kids however tell everyone that I am an author and never ever mention my day job that pays the bills.

If you went to a grade school and asked who can draw, who can write all the hands would go up. If you ask adults barely any would. We have somehow made it wrong to embrace and continue to foster your creative side. That is not helping society any.

We should be proud we have over come the training that was pounded into us to conform.

Three cheers for anyone who embraces their creativity and what makes them unique.

J Q Rose said...

What a thought-provoking blog post. Validation came to me at different stages in my writing career. My first thrill was to see my byline on the newspaper article, the ezine article, the magazine article and actually get paid for writing! Then I received my first contract from a publisher for my book and did a happy dance. Now I am reaching out to readers who gain something from reading my stories.

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Michelle,

Here's a little validation for you :)

I'm co-hosting IWSG and I've gone through 20-25 blogs in the last couple of hours and TWO have mentioned - and linked to you - this very post :)

As they (kinda) say in baseball, "Well written Wallace, well written." :)

lnahay said...

We trully are the most conflicted bunch, aren't we?!