Whatever you do, don’t be a needy writer

Do you ever find yourself all upset and desperate for someone to tell you you're a totally spiffing writer? Sounds like you need a slap round the chops and a little objectivity.

Before I crack on with this post, I should probably get one thing clear. This is as much a note to self as it is advice or comment. We can all be needy writers from time to time and I’m no different. But that doesn’t make it right.

First, let me explain what I mean when I talk about being needy.

Needy is that craving for attention that you often get as a writer. It’s that feeling that becomes aroused after spending hours, days, weeks, months or even years on a writing project and finally deciding to show it to the world.

It’s what happens when you want recognition.

What’s the problem?

Hey, what’s wrong with a little love when I’ve worked so hard? Why shouldn’t I expect a pat on the back? It took me ages! I deserve it!

See. You even sound needy when you’re arguing that it’s okay to sound needy.

The problem is, you’re likely to be at your neediest when you’re asking for feedback. It’s when you’re vulnerable because your writing fate is handed over to someone else. All you want is a positive response. It’s nerve-wracking.

And that’s the point at which you must also remain cool. You need to be the coolest you’ve ever been, like an eskimo’s nipples or the Fonz. You must retain your objectivity. Avoid getting giddy.

If you don’t stay cool, you’ll get nothing from the feedback. You’ll be so worried about whether you’re good enough that you’ll interpret every hesitation and every trace of red ink as some huge disaster. Any positives that come your way will drown in your stinky sea of self pity.

You’ll behave, dear readers, like a bit of a tit. And that’s no good. It never is.

What’s the solution?

The obvious remedy to needy-writer-syndrome is to somehow find a position on your carpet that allows you to quietly, privately get over yourself. But that’s easy to say and rather difficult and painful to do.

However, one thing you must always remember is that most writers feel just like you do. Many will be feeling the same way at exactly the same time, wherever they are in the world. Being a needy writer is normal.

But you should try to fight it. If you’ve reached a point with whatever you’re doing where you want to ask someone for feedback, then ask them for feedback and expect feedback.

Now that’s a lot of feedbacks, but the point is this. You have to accept the rough with the smooth. You’re asking someone for an opinion on your work, not confirmation that you’re as brilliant as you certainly hope you are.

Don’t be needy. Be cool and improve your writing.

Image: sirexkat

Share your thoughts

Are you a needy writer or are you kool like the proverbial kukumber? Is it easy to stay objective or inevitable that your emotions will run wild? Get talking in the comments section below!


Anonymous 17 November 2010 Reply

This is excellent advice. Fear of criticism can be paralysing and can fool us all into thinking that as long as we’ve written something “that’s enough”.
But in my experience sharing my writing usually magnifies the joy and pleasure and creativity of the process – even if the feedback isn’t always what I was expecting or hoping for. Honest feedback makes me work harder and in turn makes me a better writer. It usually also reveals strengths in my writing that I wasn’t t aware of, as well as the things I need to work on.
This post is great advice – I just hope that this comment is good enough.

iain@writeforyourlife.net 17 November 2010 Reply

Feedback is integral to getting better at what we do. We need to embrace it! And Dan, your comment was tremendous.

contact@zahrabrown.com 29 November 2010 Reply

Criticism makes me work harder too. You shouldn’t give others power over you, but being able to prove them wrong long term definitely drives me a little.
When it comes to criticism, I’m a ‘highly sensitive’ writer. I take everything to heart, but I do that in all areas of my life. It really hurts when the critic is right, but you somehow missed what was under your nose the whole time. All the more reason to step away from your work before submission.

Anonymous 17 November 2010 Reply

God, I am so bad when it comes to that. I take it as a personal affront if someone doesn’t like something I’ve written which is just silly. Case in point – I think Dan Brown is a lazy, hackneyed writer with more money than sense but I don’t think he’s inherently a bad person. I’m sure’s lovely. Therefore, if I can view someone else’s writing as being separate from them, why I can’t I do the same towards myself?!

iain@writeforyourlife.net 17 November 2010 Reply

Oooh, yes, an absolute golden rule. Unless the feedback really is of a personal nature, you should never take it to heart. It’s just business! You can only improve if you get honest, measured feedback on your writing.

dougwynne@comcast.net 17 November 2010 Reply

Good advice and a nice reminder. I find it’s best to let some time pass between the writing and the feedback. After I get some distance, I try to make it clear to my beta readers that I’m begging them to tell me the hard honest truths about what they don’t like.
It can be difficult for people who like you and want to see you succeed to criticize your hard work. We shouldn’t make it any harder on them by letting on that we’re so needy. If we do, they might be tempted to attenuate the parts we could learn the most from.

iain@writeforyourlife.net 17 November 2010 Reply

You’re absolutely right, of course. If we act all needy then we’re morew than likely going to affect the nature of the feedback we receive. And that makes it absolutely useless. Honesty is the key!

Anonymous 17 November 2010 Reply

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Anonymous 17 November 2010 Reply

Fantastic advice! Even visual artists fall into this trap and reminding myself that my art or my writing is physically separate from me is extremely important. Once I have put something to writing or canvas I have begun to see it as something apart from me-with no feelings-this way all criticism directed towards the work is exactly that-at the work and not me.That’s not to say I am always able to stick to that but it has certainly added a new level of perspective for me. I do still hope for positive criticisms but I am less likely to attach the negative to myself(sometimes). It also makes it easier to revisit something objectively and improve it or abandon it all together if it turns out it isn’t a great idea.
Always learn so much from your posts-thanks!

iain@writeforyourlife.net 17 November 2010 Reply

Yes, I think that you could more or less replace the word writer in this post for any other creative type. It really is important to, as you say, understand that almost all feedback is (and certainly should) be directed at the work and not you. I know this is trivialising something very important to us all, but it’s only our writing. It’s not life or death. Stay objective!

laurie.altieri@gmail.com 17 November 2010 Reply

Call it a strike or call it a home run, this one is right down the middle–thanks!!!

Anonymous 17 November 2010 Reply

Every time I ask for feedback, I am now going to chant “I am an Eskimo’s Nipple!”

iain@writeforyourlife.net 17 November 2010 Reply

I really, really hope that you do.

terryheath@yahoo.com 18 November 2010 Reply

In her book “Steering the Craft,” Ursula K. Le Guin stresses taking feedback in silence. No defending yourself, and not even saying thanks! She is talking about writing workshops, but I’ve been in several writing classes which adopted this policy of silence and it taught me to take what I hear, use what I can of that, and whatever I do, not get defensive. When we get defensive, even if we think we’re just “explaining what we meant to say,” we are not listening to what could be valuable feedback.

Not exactly what you were talking about, but similar. Maybe part of being cool as a cucumber is also being quiet as . . . a snowcone?

iain@writeforyourlife.net 18 November 2010 Reply

Hi Terry – I’d say that is part of what I’m talking about, for sure. Itsounds very much like my MA Writing seminars. There’s no way they’d have
stood for any nonsense. The feedback was critical at times, but generally
always measured and from people who know their onions. While silence wasn’t
required, you were certainly expected to listen up!

dave@channelshirt.com 9 December 2010 Reply

As a Leo, I’ve always craved and desired praise, fame, and fortune from every little piece of writing I’ve done. And, I find that if I’m craving praise, but getting constructive criticism, it is often hurtful. Now, I usually ask for praise (from family and friends – because they’ll praise me even if it sucks) first, get it out of the way, feel satisfied with it, and only then start letting people read it and give comments. Having some distance from my work, and having already received some praise helps me to be more receptive to the comments.
Thanks for your post!

iain@writeforyourlife.net 9 December 2010 Reply

I like your style!
It think that if the person giving you the feedback knows that you struggle
to hear criticism, they can perhaps make sure they preface any negative
feedback with a some positive vibes. That’s not to say they have to tell
fibs – there’s usually something positive to be found in the most dreadful
of work (which I’m sure yours is not!).

Anonymous 16 December 2010 Reply

[…] even us real writers need to feel writerly from time to time. We can be a rather needy bunch, after […]

Anonymous 19 January 2011 Reply

[…] writers are a negative bunch from time to time. We get needy about our work and think that the whole world is against us, even if the exact opposite is true. We love a good whinge. That’s just how most of us […]

Anonymous 7 February 2011 Reply

[…] can be difficult. We writers can often feel like the world’s against us. If we’re not battling writer’s block we’re having to deal with the injustice of […]

jennifer@thequeensempire.com 31 October 2011 Reply

Art is personal. Whether I’m creating culinary, visual, or textual art it’s from the heart and soul so I don’t think I ever feel removed from it. I do think it’s important to be careful of who you request feedback from. Make sure it’s someone who fits the criteria of your target market. And when you receive unsolicited feedback judge it’s merit based on that.
Not everyone gets us artists. Some people that are outside that sphere will still feel compelled to voice their opinion. You just need to let it roll off, right out the window, and keep on soaring forward on the path you know you’re supposed to be traveling on! Thanks!


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