Why do we create? The answer is different for everyone, but those who create only and purely for themselves are a rare breed. Most of us feel like checking with others whether what we’ve created is as pretty, sincere, mind-blowing, deep, meaningful, brilliant as we ourselves think.
And that’s OK.
Is it? Yes! I know wanting external validation has a bad rep, but it is not a bad thing in and of itself. If anything, it’s a very human thing. When you were still a kid, did you ever get really upset when you made someone a drawing or clayed them an ashtray and they didn’t immediately make you feel like you just created the most divine piece of art? There’s just something about our hard work being acknowledged that makes us tick.
So, why does external validation have such a bad rep?
Because it’s easy to get caught up in wanting this kind of endorsement. And, the more we yearn for it—the more it becomes our one and only goal—the harder it becomes to remember why we created in the first place.
Is it OK to want an agent who sees something in your work? Yes. Is it a bad thing to want stellar reviews on Amazon? No. Is it normal to want to sell enough books so you can claim the title of bestselling author? Absolutely. But if these are the only reasons you write, if these are the only milestones that make you feel like you’re having success, how do you keep writing when you’re not getting this kind of validation, or not enough of it?
While wanting validation is part of the human condition, external validation isn’t the only kind out there. There’s also validation that comes from within, from you reminding yourself that what you are doing is worth doing.
Does it pay the bills? No, not directly. Does it show the world just how good you are? Not really, no. But it is what will keep you writing when the going gets tough, when you aren’t sure what or who you’re doing it for, and are about ready to throw in the towel. Your ability to give yourself a stamp of approval is what will keep you writing when the struggle gets real.
Compare yourself to…yourself
One way to validate ourselves and our own progress is by looking at where we’ve been and comparing it to where we are now. Where were we ten years ago, five years ago, last year? How did we do in the meantime? What milestones (big and small) did we reach? Did we finish that novel? Did we get that short story shortlisted? Did we sell out during that author event? Did our beta readers love that last draft? Did our writing improve over time? Did we get better at plotting? At adding different layers to our stories? At writing really good villains? Are we writing more than we used to? Are we finally claiming the title ‘writer’? Did we tell aunt Edna yet?
Whatever comes up for you when you compare your current self with who you were last year or last decade, make sure to actually acknowledge how far you’ve come, even if it isn’t as far as you wanted to be. Growth can be found in both the little and the big things, yet we tend to focus on the latter. What happens when we sit down, grab a notebook, and reflect on all of it?
Yes, some of these milestones will be external in nature, but one way to keep validating yourself from within is by remembering these moments in which you felt heard and seen as a writer by others. It’s like I said: external validation is not a bad thing per se. But, if you just go from big external goal to big external goal without reflecting once in a while on the validation you already received here and there, you won’t ever be satisfied. It’s this remembering—and that’s very much an inside job—that will help you stick with your writing when you can’t seem to find any external reason for doing so.