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Leave a Review! (or, Developing a Culture of Praise)

I think most writers wrangle with the feeling that their writing is garbage, from time to time. Our own inner critics take our rough drafts and compare them incessantly and unkindly to the great works that exist in the world. And this is a normal part of the growth process. Read something polished, pick up those tricks, apply them to our works-in-progress lather-rinse-repeat.

But another thing happens, sometimes. Sometimes the critics get you.

I just recently completed a gig, writing blog posts for a software company. It’s work I’ve been doing for decades, but this time I got a hold of someone who didn’t really know what they were doing, and masked their insecurity by being cruel. And friends, it worked. After three months of absorbing this person’s toxicity, I find myself sitting down to a blank page and having panic attacks because *nothing I write is good enough*. I can feel this person tearing my work apart, over and over again. And it doesn’t actually matter that I know he’s wrong, because y’know, decades of experience in writing and publications. Somehow, the voice of cruelty is louder than the multiple voices who read my original work and were full of praise about it.

So why am I airing my dirty professional laundry here? Because you need to leave a review.

Every author — every last one of them — has struggled with feeling like crap about their material. And every author — every last one of them — has dealt with people who conflate cruelty with expertise, and criticism with wisdom. And they are wrong, wrong, wrong, but they are loud. So what the world needs now is to drown those voices out with everything we’ve got.

There’s an insane amount of research out there on childhood and psychological development that shows that giving people actionable information and supportive correction gives better results than dishing out condemnation and critique. And I think everyone can relate to the difference between teachers that helped you grow, and teachers that helped you feel small and inept. We’ve all had them. And no one liked it. So many brilliant beginning creators have had their light damped out by someone who was trying to score points in the asshole olympics. And that’s a loss for the world.

I’m here to tell you that a better world is possible. And that better world exists when every one of us participates in building a culture of praise.

Because this is a blog that belongs to a publishing company, and while I love random acts of kindness, today I’m specifically encouraging everyone to write a review of a book you loved. Obviously I think you should do it on StoryGraph, but Goodreads or Amazon will do as well. Because every author out there has had to wrestle the brainworm of inadequacy, and the best thing to do to eradicate those is to drown them with specific praise. That’s not only a great way to make a better world, but it’s a great way to encourage your author of choice to write more, and it’s a great way to drive more people to their books — which is a double win, because it both increases sales, and introduces people to more great books.

The best gift you can give a writer is to review their stuff. And the best gift you can give the world is to get in the habit of seeing the best in things, and saying something about it. Beating folks down doesn’t actually make the world better in any dimension whatsoever, and I think we all have had quite enough of a world where people attack each other for fun and social cred. I propose that creating a culture of praise is a way to substantively steer the world away from the Archie Bunker School of Obnoxiousness, and into something much, much better.

Go. Say something awesome out in public today. And come on back here and leave a link, so we can all enjoy it.

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