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Background

Alright, so my friends and English teacher recently found out that I've written novels, and asked to read them. So, I gave them out because I have plenty of self-confidence and really enjoy writing. I let my friends read them and my teacher. All I've got now is massive, non-stop praise, about how 'good I am'. My friends have told me that everything interlinks and cliffhangers keep them going, and they love the characters, but my teacher went a step further and told me that I'm going to be famous. No! I'll probably never even get my work published.

Of course, I have had plenty of criticism. For example, in some places my descriptions are too long and I need to break it up, or in other parts my meaning isn't too clear. I love criticism because I think its the only way to be a stronger writer. But, I've got praise from literally everyone I know now, about how it 'all comes together' and 'characters'. At least I know those are my strong-points.

Question

Almost every author loves their work and has a big ego when it comes to writing. So, how can I respond to oh you're going to be famous and whatever? Here's my question:

How can I respond to praise without appearing egotistical, or obsessive about my work?

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    "Thank you, that's very kind. I appreciate your comments." Doesn't even acknowledge if they're true. Nov 13 '16 at 13:10
  • I should have clarified. How can I respond to the questions that come after praise about my work, without appearing egotistical? How can I not appear egotistical when talking about it? @LaurenIpsum Nov 13 '16 at 13:17
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    Daniel (if that is your real name) just stop overthinking everything. Write, if your like to write, submit, if you want to get published, enjoy that people like your work, learn from the criticism that you find valid – and stop worrying about everything. I feel you don't need writing help but maybe psychological counseling to stop this pathological self-doubt. Just do what you enjoy.
    – user5645
    Nov 13 '16 at 16:51
  • Of course Daniel is my real name. Eh, you can never be too cautious about appearing like you have an ego. I don't tell anyone because I just like it so much that I don't really want to expose people too it in case I act egotistically by liking it so much and being so excited to write on. I think I'm being cautious, not worrying @what Nov 13 '16 at 17:54
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    You can't and you shouldn't. If you're being overbearing or insufferable the crowd will let you know. On the other hand if you're supremely confident and can still connect with people people love that. Good luck! Nov 15 '16 at 4:29
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Underlying your question is what appears to be a belief in the following two premises:

  1. It is difficult or impossible to respond to praise without appearing egotistical.
  2. Appearing egotistical is bad and to be avoided at all costs.

Let's discuss each of the two premises. I most certainly disagree with the first one: there are many ways to respond to praise that have nothing to do with egotism. Some examples would be:

Thanks, I'm glad you thought my novel was good.

Thanks, I'm really flattered that you think I'll be famous some day.

Thanks! I really enjoyed writing the novel, so it's very nice that you enjoyed reading it.

The key to a non-egotistic reply is to acknowledge the praise but not affirm it. However, there is nothing wrong or egotistical (except maybe egotistical in a normal, healthy way -- see below) with showing that you appreciate the praise and enjoy receiving it.

Second, I feel it's also important to say that I don't completely agree with the second premise as well, in the following sense: you seem to shun the idea of appearing egotistical so much that you go to the opposite extreme and feel a need to actively deny the praise you receive, as in denying that you'll ever be famous and saying "No! I'll probably never even get my work published". This kind of "reverse egotism" is (in my humble opinion) almost as bad as, and perhaps just as bad or worse, than "normal" egotism.

Think about it this way: objectively speaking, someone who has read your novel is probably in a better position than you to assess whether you are likely to become a famous writer. They know what it feels like to have read your novel and enjoyed it. Who are you to disagree? Isn't it in some sense just as egotistical to vehemently deny that your writing is good as to affirm it, since it implies a presumption that you know better than anybody else how good/bad your writing is?

The point I'm trying to make is that a modest level of egotism is normal, healthy, expected, and even appreciated. I'm sure you put in a ton of time and creative energy into writing your novels. With that kind of emotional investment, it would be completely bizarre if you weren't proud of it and obsessed about it. Your friends are probably expecting you to show pride in the work and are themselves proud to be associated with someone so talented. Why not give them what they want? Discuss the work with them, share the passion and emotions you invested in the work, and show them that you appreciate the praise. It won't say anything bad about you, as long as you keep your ego in check and don't let the praise go to your head in an unhealthy way.

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  • Isn't that a big part of why some writers blog? To connect with their audiences and let them give back more than just the purchase price. If you are sharing and communicating with them, it doesn't have to be about ego. It's also letting them know you're a human being, not just an "author". Book signings are the same idea, just a shorter encounter. Readers love stuff like that.
    – Joe
    Nov 15 '16 at 23:55
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It depends on the commenter. Is this a friend who is just being effusive, or someone who's offering constructive criticism (or praise) with an eye toward getting you published? Roughly speaking, it's the difference between your best friend saying "dude, that presentation was awesome!" and your boss saying "Good job with that presentation in front of the bigwigs." Friends can be demurred with empty comments as above. Actual critiques open the conversation to a discussion of technique.

So if your English teacher, for example, is saying that you did a good job with cliffhangers, you can talk about how you plotted them out (or didn't), if you were inspired by another writer or a movie, some of the concerns you had when you were writing it, and so on.

Being egotistical is saying "Yes, I did do a great job! I'm just waiting for the agents to start banging on my door offering me movie contracts. I think it's going to outsell Mark Twain. Teacher, don't you think my novel is better than anything you've assigned in class?"

Discussing the nuts and bolts of your craft is not being egotistical. Courtesously acknowledging that you did something well is not being egotistical. (I mean, isn't that the point of creating? Doing it well? You generally don't set out with the goal of doing something badly.) Assuming that you have done something better than anyone else ever is being egotistical.

You're allowed to say "Thank you! I'm really happy with how it turned out. I loved writing it and I'm so glad other people are enjoying it as well." It's not a sin to take a reasonable amount of pride in a job well done.

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  • I'm sorry I didn't accept this answer. It was really helpful, but I found that Dan Romik's answer helped me understand the two underlying beliefs I have Nov 15 '16 at 5:42
  • @DanielCann No apologies necessary! I think his answer is excellent and I upvoted it too. :) Nov 15 '16 at 10:34
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If someone asks you a writing question, don't answer with reference to your own work. Answer with reference to the works of the greatest writers you have read. This allows you to address the question while tacitly acknowledging that there are better examples out there than your own work. It also shows that you are genuinely interested in the craft, with is the opposite of an egotistical interest in your own work.

Egoism, ultimately, is not about thinking that your work is excellent, it is about thinking that the work is excellent because it is yours. Showing an interest in and admiration for the work of others absolves you of egoism while showing that you have a genuine interest and enthusiasm for literary excellence.

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Simple. Answer.

Thanks, I really appreciate it. I work hard and love writing.

You could do it too. It's just a lot of hard work and enjoying the challenge of putting ideas in words so others understand and enjoy reading them.

Remember, Remy, anyone can write. ~Gusteau

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I'm wondering if the real problem isn't that you're worried about being egotistical, but instead what you're feeling is maybe a bit of impostor syndrome mixed with your friends and teachers being overly enthusiastic with their praise.

It's a terrible feeling to receive higher praise that you feel you've warranted, causing you to feel that friends, teachers, parents, or whoever have the expectation for you to achieve greatness. They see the great writer that you'll be in the future, when you see yourself as just a kid who likes to write but maybe actually wants to be a programmer or a pilot or something else. You feel locked into their vision of your future rather than being able to choose for yourself.

So, what do you do about it?

First - learn from your mistakes. Sometimes your friends aren't actually the best people to share your work with. You don't have to hide it from them or anything, but it sounds like it might be good in this case to just say thanks and then let the matter drop and don't bring it up with them again.

Second - pick who you're going to share it with carefully. Share it with another writer or a good editor who will give you actual critical praise and advice rather than blanket, "You're the BESTEST!" praise.

Third - don't sell yourself short. If you've finished a novel, send it out and see what happens. You're not going to learn anything by finishing the thing and then sitting on it. You'll likely get lots of rejections, because that's the way it works, but mixed in with those rejections, you'll probably get some good advice on how to make your writing better.

And finally - watch other people that are in the same boat. I've been around a number of famousish people and watched them interact with people who are fans, and the really big famous people have this little invisible wall between them and a fan that doesn't exist when they meet someone who treats them like a real person. Douglas Adams for one just looked completely exhausted by the whole fan thing. You can have a friend, or you can have a fan... but I don't think that person can really be both.

Actually, maybe that's something you can tell your friends:

"Thanks for the praise, but lets change the subject. I'd rather have you as a friend than a fan."

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