September 8, 2016
The Pitfalls of Praise and Criticism
"Give someone a book, they'll read for a day. Teach someone how to write a book, they'll experience a lifetime of paralyzing self doubt," Lauren DeStefano tells us.
The psychological, spiritual, emotional pitfalls of writing a book are so numerous and varied it is amazing a word is ever written. And if you do finish and publish, you face a whole new set of issues instigated in equal measure by success and failure, by praise and criticism.
Many people will react to you positively in person or in writing. The flattery can feel awkward at first. You just aren't sure how to respond. But then you begin to hope for it, look forward to it, expect it, and then need it . . . like an addiction.
Others can be quite critical, especially in the anonymity of social media. Some who know you may react out of jealousy, perhaps especially if they are writers themselves who have been less successful than you.
One of the reasons such comments can be so personal is that every book is a piece of ourselves. In a sense every book is autobiographical because it expresses a part of our life, our interests, our ideas, our passions. Even a book on actuarial science expresses the hours and interest we have personally invested in the subject. A book is about us, our ideas and the way we think.
So it is hard not to take responses personally. The effects of praise or criticism can send us into levels of Paradise or the Inferno that Dante never imagined.
So how do you deal with all this? Here are a few ideas.
Remember, it's just about you. Why did you write the book? Probably, first and foremost you wrote it for yourself. And that's not a bad thing. There was something inside you that you wanted to get out. So you did. Did you enjoy the process? Did you enjoy the result? Did you learn something along the way? Well, then, that's worthwhile. If people are critical, well, you still got something out of it. Did people like it, well, that's a bonus.
Remember, it's not about you. A pastor told me that sometimes he preached and felt dry, but the Spirit took what he said and moved people in amazing ways. At other times he preached with joy and energy, only to see no response. It helped him learn that preaching is not about him or about how well he does. It is about whether or not the Spirit shows up, and that is the Spirit's decision, not his. His job is to faithfully preach. So he does.
Expect criticism. It happens. Just being aware of that ahead of time can help you deal with it when it comes. IVP's illustrious academic editor Dan Reid once said, "If you are starting out as a biblical scholar and the notion of having your dearly held 'contribution' summarily overturned in 20-30 years unnerves you, may I suggest a career in accounting?" Which is to say, grow a thick skin, and realize that others shall dish it out to you as you have dished it out to others. That's part of how scholarship works. I critique those who came before me, and those who follow critique me. Hopefully, we all move forward as a result of all these discussions, even if not in a straight line.
Get a support team. IVP's equally illustrious editorial director, Cindy Bunch, notes that some authors develop a launch team to help them promote a book when it is published. But maybe we also need a spiritual launch team. They can help you sort through the spiritual and emotional implications of praise and criticism. But there is also the issue that the book may or may not sell well. Or something in between. It's always a guessing game in publishing. But any possible result can have spiritual implications too.
Remember my identity is in Christ. I am not defined by my book. I am not defined by the praise or criticism or sales of my book. My identity is in Christ who loves me with an everlasting love, who made me, who put that book in me and who helped me get it out. I look at him and find myself in him.
Now go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.