I was listening to a podcast the other day, and the guest, non other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt, made a really interesting point. He was speaking about how artists and creatives can easily fall foul of seeking and judging themselves by external validation alone. Writers are just as guilty of this as any others (and in fact, given how close they sit to social media, some are worse) so I thought I’d explore it in depth.
What is external validation?
In short, you are looking for external validation whenever you ask someone to comment on your work. When someone tells you they enjoyed your story, it feels good. When someone gives you a pat on the back and tells you what you’re going is worthwhile, it feels good. So, rather than being positive internally about why they are doing something, a lot of writers are constantly searching for that external validation, whether it’s on Twitter, Instagram or local writers groups.
Why it’s not a good thing
Sometimes, external validation can be a great way for writers to give themselves a boost. If you rely on it though, you are going to have a bad time.
The desire for external validation is not a new thing. When that is combined with social media it can become all encompassing. You probably have a friend who judges themselves on the number of likes or retweets that they receive. Of another who spends hours dreaming up the perfect witty response to a news story. For writers, it can be blog posts or new book announcements.
There’s a risk that if you don’t get the validation you need from external sources, that you will do one of two things. You will either start believing your writing is no good and you should start again. Or you will believe that writing isn’t the thing for you, and you won’t bother any more.
Writing a weekly blog like Write with Phil has, sometimes, be a struggle. I’ve written some great blog posts (in my opinion) that haven’t really resonated with my followers on twitter and medium. On the other hand, I’ve written some posts that I wasn’t keen on that have seen some really good discussions take place around.
IT would be easy for me to start chasing those likes and keep repeating the same subject matter over and over again. To do that not be my writing my blog though. Instead I’d be chasing views, something that I don’t want to do. The idea of writing a blog post for a Sunday became something I didn’t want to do, despite loving it at the beginning of the year.
The realisation above took me a while to come to. I was uploading stories and hoping that others would read and comment and like, rather than focus on something that I was proud of, along the lines that I wanted to talk about. When I understood that, I started to write for me again. And the blog posts have been coming a lot easier since then.
Only you know why you’re writing your story. So don’t expect anyone to give you a pat on the back every five minutes. They don’t know how much it means to you. But you do. So why not type out a quick note to yourself and pop it on the monitor screen? Give yourself a pep talk.
If this is difficult to you at first, have a look at my post about deciding what to work on to focus your mind. You’ll find that one project floats to the surface. This is the project that you should be working on, not because other people will like it, but because you want to write it.
For writers, wanting to write is worth a million Instagram shares.
Having said that, please externally validate my work by signing up to my newsletter here.