Monday, October 12, 2009

Too Supportive?

In my speech for the Golden Heart, I thanked my family and friends, describing them as "sometimes too supportive." It occurred to me, as those words were coming out of my mouth, that maybe I should have phrased that differently. (For the record: Impromptu speaking in front of two thousand people = not recommended... as I believe I may have mentioned about two million times already.)

I am incredibly lucky to have an amazingly supportive network of friends and family. (Does anyone else think that sentence sounded like it should be part of a wireless phone commercial?) But there are times when the cheerleading of my supporters gets so loud, it's hard to hear the reality that I've still got a lot of room for improvement.

My family doesn't really do "tough love." My mom loves every book I've ever written (and some of them were just dreadful). It's hard to get an accurate idea of where I fit in the grand-writing-scheme of things when my mom tells me I'm just as good as Jennifer Crusie. (Go ahead and laugh. I get a little snort of laughter every time she tries to sell me that one. The Divine Miss J? I don't think so. I'm not even in the same zip code.)

This well-meant blowing of smoke up nether regions extends beyond my immediate family. Writers groups are marvelously supportive places, but that may not always be a good thing. When your website is a travesty or you are making a grievous career misstep, are they going to tell you that? Or are they going to support you all the way to your next self-sabotaging behavior? We need more than just rubber stamps and yes men. We need people to kick us in the butt when we need it and tell us when we are being idiots.

And God forbid someone should say something negative about a book! With a few notable exceptions (Smart Bitches, Dear Author, Mrs. Giggles), review sites are so gloriously supportive of our books that it's hard to figure out which ones they really like. I love having people tell me they like my book, but if they wax poetic absolutely everything they read... well, I'm more discriminating than that. And the praise would mean more to me if they were too.

I'm glad I have an editor who will tell me when I need to go back to the drawing board (though sometimes I secretly worry that she's too easy on me). Revisions are designed to make us better, not tear us down. When someone asks me to do better, sure it may sting a bit at first, but I know it's the best thing for me and I'm grateful.

I am capable of more. I won't shatter if more is demanded of me.

I know it seems strange to be complaining about being wrapped up in warm fuzzies, but honesty is paramount for me. Sometimes the honest answer is that I'm not the greatest thing since sliced bread. And that's okay too. It's good actually. I'm still learning. And I need the pressure to try harder. Sometimes we need people who believe in our potential just as much as we do the people who value what we've already achieved.

And when (fingers crossed, knock on wood) I'm a big name, when best seller lists lie down and beg for mercy when they see me coming, I hope I have someone - editor, agent, crit partner - who will kick my butt if I lose my way and start churning out formula pulp. I think one of the worst things a writer can have is the level of success where the people around you turn into giant rubber stamps.

So here's to rejections, revisions, and criticism. Long may they reign.

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