Friday, December 28, 2012

The Dangers Of Needing Everyone To Like You

Time to talk about something that might make people a little uncomfortable! My favorite thing to do, right?

Everyone wants to be liked. I think especially women feel this need to not ruffle anyone's feathers and to make everyone happy and to be as likable as humanly possible. In general, this is a GOOD desire, but it's also one that can quickly derail into the realm of unhealthy worries and behaviors. At least it has for me at times, and I've had to make a concerted effort to pull myself out of the death spiral of trying to get everyone in the whole entire world to like me.

So today I wanted to talk about some of the red flags—the signs that you might be taking the good desire to be likable to an extreme that becomes detrimental to you and those around you. (And of course I'll be talking about this in terms of writing, though I believe it's applicable in all aspects of life.)

1. Letting other people's opinions determine how much you value yourself and your work.
We all want validation for who we are and what we do. I certainly do, and I'm not above admitting that I feel really good when people say they like me or my writing. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside, knowing someone connected with me and my work the way I hoped someone would.

And, yes, it stings—and even so much as hurts—when I hear that someone doesn't like me or my work. I think this is a fair and natural reaction for anyone who creates things. We create something because we LIKE it, and when someone else doesn't get it or even goes as far to say that it was stupid or cliche or just plain's really hard not to feel that to some measure.

The issue arises when we allow validation—and as a result the criticism—to determine what we think of our own work. I often think of my young daughter when I ponder this topic. She is so confident and proud of the person she is. But she is not yet in school, not yet around media and other things that will tell her she's not good enough. I'm so afraid someday she'll go to those sources to determine her worth instead of holding on to her own belief that she is awesome.

It's hard for a writer to be confident. And at times it even seems that those who do act self-assured will be disliked and criticized that much more. But the truth of the matter is this: True validation only comes from within.

If you allow yourself to LIKE who you are regardless of what others think, happiness follows. As does freedom to do and create what you want to, what makes your heart sing. And that is far more important than anyone's approval.

2. Thinking in black and white. As in, "If this person doesn't 100% love me or my work, then they must HATE me or my work."
The biggest life lesson I've learned from writing is that people are not one-dimensional creatures. Everyone is flawed. When we focus on someone's flaws, we tend to dislike them. When we focus on their merits, we tend to like them. When we look at them as a whole—we tend to understand them.

When I get consumed by the need to be liked, one of the biggest problems I have is seeing people in black and white instead of the true grayscale they are. It becomes easier to think that if someone isn't my bestest friend in the whole wide world, then they MUST hate me. With no middle ground. No allowance for indifference or general good will or a variance in opinion.

And that's not fair—to me or them. Just because someone doesn't like an aspect of me doesn't make them a horrible person. And just because someone loves everything about me or my work doesn't make them a perfect person, either.

This can be especially important to remember when interacting with other writers/agents/editors in the "workplace." For example, do you decide another writer hates your book because you never got a reply for that blurb request? Do you assume an agent hates you because they rejected your query/partial/full? Do you figure an editor will never like any of your books because they passed on one of them?

These negative thoughts can be a slippery slope leading to my next red flag:

3. Beginning to vilify people you don't know based on little information.
When you start to draw arbitrary and harsh lines based on who likes you and who you think hates you, it gets easier to take the next step—making people into either allies or villains in your life. And if that happens, you will constantly be on the look out for things that support your idea of the roles these people play in your life.

So if you view someone as your ally, you might start seeing only their positive attributes while turning a blind eye to the things they may do wrong. And if you see a person as your enemy, you will hunt down all proof that they are, indeed, out to get you.

This can cause a ridiculous amount of stress and paranoia, which I'm ashamed to admit I've experienced. You start to feel uncomfortable everywhere—online, at signings, at conferences—because surely your enemies are judging you and you must stick with your allies so that you can protect yourself.

Stress. Fear. Anger. When you assume people are out to get you, you create unnecessary conflict in your life. I think this is especially easy to do as writers, because we are constantly hunting for stories and sometimes our imaginations bleed into reality. But the more I work to restrain myself from the tendency to vilify those I don't know well or who may have poor opinions of me, the more at peace I am with myself and them.

4. Disruption of your creative work process.
Putting your confidence in other people's hands and the resulting stress can really jack up your creative process. Because when you write for validation—or in attempts to avoid criticism—you stop writing what you love. You try to write what you think other people will love.

This has a few results. One, you freak out and freeze up because how can you possibly please everyone? So you just can't write anything. Two, you end up writing something you think other people will like, but you don't really love it. And it shows, thereby people aren't happy anyway. Three, you get so angry and overwhelmed by expectations that you go all JD Salinger and screw everyone.

I've done one and two. I've dreamed about doing three but it hasn't happened yet. Thank goodness.

I'm sure you've all heard the expression: Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen. When it comes to creating, this is so applicable it's not even funny. Art, in whatever medium, becomes diluted when too many people put their opinion into its creation. The beauty of art is that it's a window into the creator—a way to see how another person sees the world. When you try to make something that everyone understands or likes, it becomes a window to nowhere. It becomes boring.

It takes courage to keep creating what you see in your mind, to block out the other voices and stand tall and say, "This is MY work. I LIKE it. You can think whatever you want."

But I promise it's worth it.

5. Coming to situations with criticism and skepticism, instead of understanding and trust. 
Oddly enough, the need to be liked can lead to the exact opposite feeling. By trying too hard to be likable to for too long, you can come out the other end completely jaded. Because, let's face it, it's impossible to get everyone in the world to like you. Not even the most giving, saintly religious leaders have managed to win over the entire world.

And being jaded is an ugly thing. Instead of going into situations with positivity, you start to look for the bad. You become skeptical of any good feedback or compliment because surely that person is just saying that to your face, but behind your back they are telling their friends how dumb you are. You start to view everything with the taint of negativity.

That is not a fun place to be. And not only is it a disservice to you, but you are in effect accusing everyone you know of being two-faced liars. You start to say everything is disappointing or lame or not what you wanted it to be. And then you become the very critic that so scared you in the beginning. A critic of yourself. Of your work. And everyone around you.

Ah, irony.


The line between wanting to be liked and needing to be liked is a thin one. Wanting to be liked leads to kindness and the desire to understand and love people—all their facets included. Needing to be liked leads to a desperation and dependence on validation that can turn ugly fast.

I'll be the first one to admit it's hard to stay on the good side of trying to be likable, but I don't think it's impossible. And I know for a fact that the time I spend on that side is MUCH happier than the times spent greedily hunting down approval from every soul I know. And happiness is such a valuable commodity these days.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

All Day Q&A!

Tis the season for answering questions! Last Q&A of 2012. Maybe even the last one EVER, if those Mayans were right. So leave any question you want in comments, and I will answer asap.

• Yes, you may ask multiple questions.

• No, they don't have to be about writing.

• Yes, I will feel bad if no one asks me anything.

Off to the gym with my brood! But I swear I'll be back soon.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wise Words From A Wise Man

"Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably." —Jiro Ono, sushi master

If you know me, you know I'm a bit of a foodie. Not super hard core, but I love food and cooking and trying new things. So naturally, a documentary called Jiro Dreams Of Sushi would pique my interest. It's about an 85-year-old sushi master and his 3-Michelin-star restaurant, and I can't stop thinking about it. Such an interesting film.

The quote above really struck me, especially the "never complain" part. Because writing is hard, and it's easy to complain about all the work and often little reward. But the idea of coming to the page with love—with excitement for my work—is just the reminder I need right now.

I love my job. And I love the pursuit of improving at it. The next time I feel the urge to complain about it, I'm going to remember the words of this wise man.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Be Talented At Working

Yesterday at Sunday dinner, my mom mentioned that she took my ARC to church to teach the young women about developing talents. Apparently I am a good example of this, which feels weird (especially since some may not think my novel is church appropriate, but that's a story for another time).

My reply to this news was something along the lines of, "Well, I don't know how good I am at writing, but I'm sure good at working my butt off."

And this is largely true. When I put my mind to something, my boar-like stubbornness tends to take over and I just keep going even when all logic says to stop.

I've never really seen myself as exceptionally talented in anything. As a child I was fairly good at a bunch of stuff. If I put my mind to something else, I imagine I could be a swimmer or animator or flautist instead of a soon-to-be-author.

Because what I've really become good at through all these years is working. And my advice to anyone in any pursuit would be just that—get really, really good at working.

What makes a good worker? Two things:

1. Work Hard.

2. Work Smart.

You may have heard the phrase "Don't work hard, work smart." No. If you really want to get good at something, you need both.

Working hard is usually associated with grunt work that gets you nowhere, but this is not true. Sure, it is foolish to work hard at something while also refusing to improve at it. That would be like writing novel after novel without editing a single word, without trying to learn more about the craft. But no matter what you know about writing, putting in the hours of hard work to make your story into a novel are necessary. Just because you improve doesn't mean you should stop working hard.

Working smart gives off the impression that you can work less if you learn how to do things more efficiently. This might be true, but it also smells like laziness in sheep's clothing. Yes, your writing becomes cleaner when you study grammar, but that doesn't give you a pass on edits. Yes, taking classes or going to conferences could help you learn how to plot better, but if you never practice it will do nothing for you. You can't cut corners because you've grown smarter.

The true worker knows that working hard and smart propels you forward faster than doing just one. There is never shame in busting your butt for something you want. And it is certainly okay to really suck at something but have the desire to improve. It took me ten novels to figure out this writing thing. A lot more than many published writers. But I did it through a lot of hard and smart work.

If you really want something, the first thing you need to do is get good at working for it. Very few things fall into people's laps while they're sitting doing nothing, but you'd be surprised what opportunities you run into when you get up and get to work.

Friday, December 7, 2012

1st Transparent ARC Winner!

In hindsight, this contest was kind of a bad idea because so many wonderful people commented, and I wanted to give EVERYONE an ARC. But then again, reading your words has given me a huge amount a perspective this week. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all of you, for how you've stuck around through the years. It's so hard to put into words what that means to me. You've melted my jaded author heart, guys.

But I have to pick a winner. Because that's what I promised I'd do. And as I said, this contest isn't really fair. I won't lie—I'm kind of playing favorites. But there will be more ARCs to come, and fairer chances to get them.

Okay, I'll get to it now:

This ARC goes to Kristan Hoffman!

Kristan, thank you for always making me smile with your comments, and for making me feel way smarter than I actually am. I need that sometimes, I'll admit it. If I have to give away one of my precious, pretty ARCs, I know you'll give it a good home:) E-mail me at natalie (at) nataliewhipple (dot) com so we can work out logistics.

Monday, December 3, 2012


It's December! We're less than six months away from TRANSPARENT's release now! Finally, man. If waiting was a sport, I'd totally be at marathon level now.

Anyway, I mentioned last week on Twitter and FB that I'd be giving away about 5-6 ARCs between now and release—and the time has come to give away the first one! Ack. Gotta admit it's a little scary, sending my book out into the world. But it's time. We're both ready.

So how do you enter to possible get this ARC? Simple: Tell me how long you've been reading my blog. If you want to also tell me how you found it and why you stayed, go ahead. The winner will be someone of my choosing, but I'm not going to tell you how I'm choosing. (Please be honest—there will be lots more chances to get an ARC and I will know because I do keep track of who comments often on my blog, etc.)

I know this might not sound very fair, but this giveaway is for those crazy folks who've stuck around with me through all the rough patches, who've cheered me on through years of rejections. If I want anyone to get such an early ARC—it's one of those wonderful people.

Prize: Signed ARC of TRANSPARENT, plus any other goodies I can round up. (Still working on bookmarks, etc.)

Deadline to Enter: Thursday, December 6th. Winner announced Friday, December 7th.