If you’re going somewhere, you’ll need fuel to get there. Gas, petrol or just a ham sandwich to keep that belly full, no one undertakes an arduous journey on an empty tank.
I think it’s safe to say that writing a novel can be classed as an “arduous journey.” One does not simply walk into a perfect first draft. In order to make it to that distant summit of True Novel Completion, a writer requires a whole load of fuel. Much of it is provided by the inspiration that first sparked the idea for the story, but that inevitably runs dry sooner or later, sucked up by the brutal, grinding realities of plotholes and stilted dialogue. Its even harder for the first-timer to carry on, for they have no evidence that what they’re writing is any good, and certainly no guarantee that it will find its way to publication. What, then, provides the fuel that gets a writer to sit down at their keyboard each and every day?
Coffee. Maybe. But also critiques and compliments. I combined the two because, though I’m aware critiques and compliments are very different, when serving as fuel they act in much the same way. They fire up our determination to get this shit done, because someone out there cares.
Particularly when it comes to compliments, there’s a lot to look out for as a writer. Some of the people who shower you with praise do so to disguise the fact that they can’t be bothered going in-depth with a critical critique. That’s fair enough – just the fact that someone’s read and commented on your work is a cause for celebration. But even seemingly meaningless plaudits can serve as a powerful motivator. They help keep a work on the straight and narrow. They remind you that, chances are, if this ever did actually hit the shelves, someone somewhere just might like it. Everything has a use. Every word of interest shown can be converted to fuel, can be used to power the next sentence, paragraph, chapter. Success begins to replicate itself. And suddenly, without realising it, you’ll be there. Finished.
So the next time you comment on a piece of writing, remember the power of your own words. Be truthful, always, but likewise do not be afraid to lavish compliments. We’re simple creatures after all, easily affected. A few words from a complete stranger can make the difference between our success and failure.