In the publishing world, we spend a lot of time getting ourselves accustomed to rejection.
We steel ourselves for it. We tell ourselves not to react defensively to criticism (constructive or otherwise) from critique partners, editors, and agents. We do our best to process criticism, to absorb it, to learn from our mistakes and not take rejection of our work as rejection of ourselves as people.
Maybe that’s why it can be equally difficult to react with grace when someone actually—gasp!—likes our writing.
It is for me, at least, and I wonder if other writers have experienced similar emotions. Much of this is exacerbated by the way that I was raised: to always strive to be better, rather than resting on my laurels for even a moment. So for years, when someone complimented my writing, I’d blush and stammer and demur.
“Oh no!” I’d say, “It’s nothing. I’m really not all that talented. Thank you, but surely you must be joking.”
Then the other person would sort of frown, and I’d wonder what their problem was.
It’s taken me years to unpack this kind of exchange. I finally realized that those people saying nice things actually meant it—and, more, that they aren’t particularly interested in arguing with me about whether they really like my work or not. In short, I’ve finally figured out how to be gracious—how to take a compliment and not be rude in response.
At first, I relied on a stock phrase. “Thank you for saying that. I really enjoyed writing it, and I’m glad you liked it.” Every bone in my body objected to this odd, stilted, kind speech. If I just accepted their praise, did that mean I was full of myself—that I had a swelled head?
But I eventually realized how much more smoothly these interactions went when I responded graciously, rather than hemming and hawing my objections. People want to know that they’re being heard—that you respect their opinion of your work, that you respect your own work, too. I no longer dreaded the inevitable confrontation whenever I sensed that someone was going to say something nice about me. Instead, it started to feel good!
Funny thing is that it’s made a difference in my writing, too. Because when you mire yourself in doubt, it shows in your art—you might undermine the strongest parts of it, sabotaging yourself over and over again. Now I feel instead like I can listen to praise, process it in much the same way that I once did criticism, and use my strengths to my own best advantage.
So if you’re anything like my former self, the next time someone says something nice about your writing, try something new—just say “thank you”!