The Problem with Seeking Approval

Do we really need to seek approval for our writing?

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In the back of your mind, as you’re writing something, there is always a small voice whispering, “I hope this matters to somebody.”

This hope has a number of desired outcomes. You want someone to feel inspired or motivated to think or do something after reading what you wrote. You hope someone learns something new. You intend, in some way or another, for someone to benefit from your words. It’s because you care. You wouldn’t bother writing for other people if you didn’t care.

But there’s something else you want, secretly. We all want it. That tiny, completely normal, fully human need for someone to approve.

No, of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting that. Positive comments – “Well said! Well written!” – make us all feel good. The problem with being brave enough to publish our words is that we let ourselves believe everyone will have a reaction, good or bad. This just isn’t the case.

Whether you think consciously about it or not, when you sit down to write something, you’re doing it for a very specific purpose. There is some kind of message you are hoping to get across to a specific audience, whether it’s through an essay or a short story or a very long Facebook post. This becomes automatic, after awhile. The down side to this automated process of picking a message and an audience and typing out your thoughts is that you sometimes forget how the real world works.

When you publish something online, in general, everyone can see it. That includes those within your intended audience as well as those outside of it. This means people who in a way were never meant to read it very well may. And if you’ve been on the internet enough, you know this means criticism and the “I don’t agree with you so you’re wrong” mentality often hit full force.

Either that, or no one responds to your work at all. Which is more frustrating? They’re about equal.

I think, since the internet allows us to share our thoughts so publicly with the world, it has become much more difficult to reach people we actually want to reach. When this blog used to be more personal, and I was writing it for my friends and family, it was much easier to give that audience exactly what I knew they needed. Once I revamped, and it grew and drew in a much broader audience, I’ve gotten into a few (constructive?) Twitter feuds with people who were not regular readers of Novelty Revisions, who read one post, disagreed with it and felt the need to say so.

I don’t mind that. I think writing something that makes people stand up and say something is at least a step in the right direction. But at that point, you have to learn not to take it personally. And you have to learn that the majority of people who stumble upon your work are not going to like what you have to say, or agree with your main points. And you know what? That’s OK.

Other people do not know the entirety of what is going on in your head. You don’t know what’s going on in theirs, either. On one hand, you have to write with the understanding that not everyone is going to “get” where you are coming from. On the other, you have to do the best you can to resonate with a specific group of people – also knowing that not everyone will relate to or agree with what you have to say.

Don’t try so hard to seek general approval for your writing, because you aren’t going to find it – not in the way you hope for. Try your best, instead, to seek approval within yourself. You can also try focusing on the positive feedback you get, and take the negative responses you get, if any, as they come.

But you need to approve of yourself, and your work, before anyone else’s approval really matters. That’s the first step. You need to be able to say, “Hey, maybe this wasn’t the best thing I ever wrote, but I worked hard on it and I think it turned out OK.” At that point, any approval you do get thereafter is just a bonus. And if people don’t approve, well, that rejection matters just a little bit less.

Wanting other people to approve of what you write, wanting the “Good job!” you can never seem to achieve, that’s something embedded deep within all of us. Early on, it can feel like nobody cares one way or the other. That’s hard. But no one will ever approve of anything you write if you don’t keep writing.

This journey is tough. I’m still navigating it, too. But I have learned not to expect anyone to tell me one way or the other if they like or don’t like what I do. It’s not because I don’t believe I’m doing a good job. We waste a lot of energy waiting for the positive feedback that won’t always come. Just keep moving forward. Eventually you’ll have that one reader who always has an opinion. And then maybe two, or three, and so on. Some people will always comment on what they read – these people “participate” in social media. Some people will never comment – these people “observe.” Just because they don’t say anything doesn’t mean they don’t approve.

Let yourself be proud of what you’ve done, regardless of whether or not other people approve. It’s your life. Don’t let anyone else decide how well you’re making the most of it.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

2 thoughts on “The Problem with Seeking Approval

  1. This is only a problem if the desire for approval is the ONLY reason you write. If that is the case, writing will be unrewarding to say the least. Because you can never get EVERYONE to like or approve of what you write. And when you get negative feedback it is important to weigh it carefully to see if there is value in it. If not, let it go and write on!

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