When I was a young girl, I had trouble taking compliments. I did not know what to do if someone said: "I like your singing," or "You're smart."
My father taught me to say a simple "Thank you." I was not to deny the compliment, not to blow my own horn, and not to denigrate myself in my embarrassment. Just say thank you. I learned that lesson quickly when it came to run-of-the-mill compliments. "Nice dress." "Thanks!" "I like your story!" "Thank you." To my relief, it worked! I was even able to enjoy the compliments.
But now my endorsements are coming in, and this is praise of a different nature.
Here's why. The authors who are endorsing my novel are fine writers. This means I take their opinions very seriously. It also means my endorsers are eloquent, and they write endorsements as well as they write their own novels.
Like most writers, I have unvoiced dreams about future readers as I labor over each novel--dreams that all the sweat, tears, and prayer I've poured into that novel are going to mean something to someone else.
Well, when my endorsements came back, it felt to me as if some of those whispery dreams had just been spoken into reality. These endorsements were not a light "I like your story" to which I had learned to say "Thank you!" with a cheery grin. They were powerful, specific statements about my novel's nature and worth.
What I really wanted to do was throw my arms around the knees of my endorsers and bawl. Fortunately, none of them lives within 400 miles of me, so I could not.
In all but one instance, I restrained myself and sent back a very sincere thank you. In the last case, I succumbed to my emotions and sent back an email in which I tried to articulate my full reaction to the endorser's kindness.
The reasons for such an emotional reaction are complex. Yes, it's partly about validation, and about finally having some readers other than friends and critique partners. But my emotions also include a feeling of unworthiness, and an urge to reassure the person who is praising my novel that I know I'm not "all that," when you really get down to brass tacks. I want her to know that I am aware that my book and I are not the same thing, and that I'm not going to puff up my ego because I think I am solely responsible for whatever goodness the novel has. I've known a few narcissistic writers who made the mistake of believing their own press, and I have a horror of ever becoming like that.
But here's what I learned. You can't have a discussion like that via email. It's too complex, and too deep. My endorser, ever-gracious, responded kindly to my attempt at self-explanation. She probably remembers her own early endorsements and how strange and humbling it was to hear direct high praise.
Nonetheless, I ruminated on it afterwards and realized the truth all over again.
Just say thank you.
How do you respond to praise, either in ordinary life or in your work?