Honesty is the best policy?


I don’t like the word ‘policy’ in there. It reeks of stratagems and pre-consideration and artifice. Any reader who knows me in 3D will probably acknowledge that’s not very me. I am on some spectrum somewhere that means I haven’t got the intelligence to lie much. The only-opens-mouth-to-change-feet sliding scale seems particularly appropriate.

However I do have enough nous – or possibly self-deception to think that anyone notices – to reckon that being anything other than relentlessly cheery in the children’s book is likely to get a smudge by your name. You know the sort – where you try to erase it but the mistake only becomes ingrained, dark and tinged with pink rubber.

Still. I want to say how I feel at the moment – and perhaps someone else might feel a little cheered to know they are not alone. So here we go:

I can’t be doing with praise.


a person looks shocked

I know – what an odd statement. But the truth is, receiving approval about my work recently from people who know what they are talking about has floored me. I don’t know how to deal with it. I find it difficult to write creatively or even edit right now.

Both alarm and you-can’t-mean-my-stuff slosh round inside me like storm-driven breakers in a fjord. I’m rationalising if I say it’s disbelief or even fishing for compliments – the panicky sensation is far too incoherent. I wanted this feedback so much – and now I’ve got a taste, it’s all grit and bitter herbs in my sandwiches.

the word grim spray-painted on a bridge

Now it may be my miserablist Unlucky Alf northern genes, but I won’t be doing any chicken-counting. I seem to have been here before with ‘Selkies’ – and I cannot allow myself to tempt Fate. Fine words butter no parsnips and all that.

On the other hand, it may even be fear of success. What if I did have a book to promote and another to write, and also deal with contracts and  tax returns and sundry other forms of  jollity?  Could I cope?

[Calm down dear – it’s only your imagination.]

Finally, the only thing that matters is whether I understand what I am doing better. That I grasp those tiny spangles of improvement and stash them in my storytelling chest. I have to pick through any feedback like my Nana at a jumble sale, and find the silks and satins I can adapt.

Then shut the door of The Garret – and carry on writing.

an ancient door




17 thoughts on “Honesty is the best policy?

  1. Lovely and thoughtful post, Philippa. It’s normal to be a little scared of a lot of praise, especially if you’ve been burned in the past. Say thank you and do what you’re doing – get back to your writing and don’t make too much of the praise, but don’t push it away either. Ceej 🙂

  2. Really interesting, Philippa. Glimmers of success lead me to a deep sense of unease too. Strange. I don’t fully know why but I think part of it is that I don’t know how to grasp it and I fear that what I will jeopardise future success. Having said that it sounds great to get good feedback so congratulations, enjoy it … if you can. x

  3. I find all criticism – whether positive or negative – difficult to deal with. It puts me off balance creatively in the way you mention and causes me to start second-guessing myself. But I also know that my work won’t improve unless I open it up to other people’s opinion – it’s a tricky one!

    • You’re spot on there with the balance analogy, Nick. I also know you’re right about the need for critique in order to improve, too. Opening up is hard – but for me at the moment, praise makes me wobble even more.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      • The big trouble with it is though that unless it converts to something more tangible – i.e. at least a discussion about representation – and assuming that you want to be published – then it still feels like you’re on the wrong side of a big steel door knocking to get it. Plus (if you’re like me anyway) you can’t help wondering whether people are ‘just being nice’.
        But on balance, I’d take all the nice words/praise I can get as it must mean you’re doing something write 🙂

  4. I share this conundrum. Praise, as in criticism, can have a paralysing effect. I find myself making excuses as if I’d been accused of doing something terrible. You must take praise on the chin, believe it, enjoy it, but don’t let it into the Garret. In the Garret, there is just the story. Lovely post.

  5. Do hope your wobbles have eased, Philippa. Sounds like this is well deserved praise for a hard-working writer. But I know what you mean. We hope for so long for someone to really ‘get’ our writing, then when kind words come our way, in my case anyway, my brain refuses to compute any of it!
    Fingers firmly crossed that you receive the best of news soon, and that in the meantime you’re working on those silks and satins.

  6. Perhaps you can enjoy the irony of praise being heaped on this particular post, Philippa. (I enjoyed it – if I’m allowed to say.) Best. X.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.