About [*number redacted*] years ago when I could still stay awake past 8 o’clock, I was with friends at a pub, enjoying a beer and bopping to some fiddle music when this guy blustered up to me and said, “Hi. You have beautiful eyes, beautiful teeth, and beautiful sneakers.” He capped this bizarre list of my attributes with a grin as wide as Montana.
Weird, huh? And weird that I remember with such clarity after so many years.
I guess this ridiculous compliment sticks with me because it was funny. If smiley guy had dropped a more conventional pick-up line at the foot of my beautiful sneakers, it—and he—would’ve been forgotten long ago.
The kicker to the story is this—though I remember the compliment in full detail, I can’t for the life of me recall my response. I probably stammered and hemmed and hawed and giggled uncomfortably until Smiley wafted off to compliment some other young woman’s footwear.
So, what does this absurd anecdote have to do with this month’s YA Outside the Lines theme, The Best Compliment I Ever Received? Not much, but it does show my life-long inability to take a compliment. Don’t get me wrong, I love compliments. I’m just a failure, flop, and fiasco at responding to them.
I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem. When we hear something positive about ourselves, we tend to brush it off, stammer, or outright reject such positive sentiments. We think the person complimenting us doesn’t mean it. Or we pull that old Three Stooges routine of looking over our shoulder to see who he/she was really complimenting.
Why? Because we’re human. We are our own worst critics, plagued by self-doubt and insecurity. And no human is afflicted by this plague with more severity than a writer.
This is partly because we are so often knocked down by outside forces—rejection, bad reviews, and a total of 1 person showing up to our book signing (not to buy a book, but to ask directions to the rest room).
That stings, but the larger part of our insecurity comes from within, that self-doubt that tickles at the back of a writer’s brain whether they’re writing their first book or consistently hitting the bestseller lists. Is my idea unique? Are my characters fresh? Is my writing good enough? Will people like my story?
Compliments may not be the cure to that self-doubt plague, but they sure are good medicine. And when a compliment comes from another writer, well, that’s the best.
One of the best writing-related compliments I ever got came from another writer. She had read two of my manuscripts and said the voice of each story differed so much that if she didn’t know both books were mine, she would’ve thought they were written by two entirely different authors. Not great for my brand I suppose, but one book is a time travel, the other YA sci-fi. My voice for each book was intentionally different. I meant to do that—and she got it.
And you know what I did? I said thank you.
It’s funny how we have so much trouble recognizing something in ourselves that others pick up on right away. Writers need other writers, as one of my earliest writing teachers was fond of saying. We need to support each other and boost each other up.
Let loose with the compliments and don’t hold back!
Janet Raye Stevens writes YA sci-fi and paranormal and contemporary romance. She’s been getting a lot of compliments lately in the form of writing contest finals and wins, including finalling in the Romance Writers of America’s 2018 Golden Heart contest.