Validation

Validation comes in many forms. When your significant other looks into your eyes and you know; no words are needed, yet often three words follow: I love you. That is a type of validation we all need: to be accepted by the person we love. Yet there are other forms of validation that are important.

Sociologists have taught that the reason gangs are so powerful is because they allow people the chance to fit in, to join something and be a part of the group. They have taught us that belonging is one of the most important human needs (once the basics of food, shelter and clothing have been taken care of). I disagree, however. I think the act of simple belonging is not enough; the act of self-expression means more, and validation from our peers is more powerful than even self-expression.

When we join a group or organization, when we join a “click” of friends that are like-minded, then we are able to express ourselves, and it is this self-expression that is most important.

The man who landscapes his front yard is expressing himself. It is a form of self-expression. The writer who pens a story is expressing himself. The artist, the politician sharing his world-views, the writer sharing his opinion of the short story, the preacher before his pulpit—all these people are expressing themselves to those organizations they’ve linked themselves to. The mere act of belonging isn’t complete in and of itself; it’s the act of expressing themselves that means more.

But self-expression isn’t the end-all to this little epiphany of existence. The human experience goes beyond the need of belonging to a group, it goes beyond the need to express ourselves. The human being must not only express himself, he must feel validation for that self-expression.

Validation comes in many hues and colors. For the writer it may come from getting his fiction published or winning awards. For the landscaping homeowner, it may come from strangers stopping on the street to admire his handiwork in the front yard. The validation comes from others, usually our peers, but sometimes it comes from complete strangers. Validation comes from readers, other writers, admirers of our work and appreciators of our endeavors.

Validation completes the cycle. It begins with belonging to something, usually networking with writers. It moves into self-expression. Rejection comes into play many times, but ultimately some form of validation comes, and not a moment too soon.

After a time, the validation needs to increase. The writer needs to move from for-the-love ezines to semi-pro publications, and then from there to pro-markets (without EVER forgetting the for-the-love ezines). Otherwise, it’s just a hobby. Otherwise, the landscaper is just decorating and refining his front yard.

Validation is the magic word for the quality of human existence. Belonging to an organization is great. Enjoying the liberating freedom of self-expression and freedom-of-speech is wonderful. But validation is the drug that incites writers to trudge through the muck of rejection notices. Validation is the power that calls to us all. Validation from our peers, from readers, is the reason we write. Otherwise, why would the artist sculpt his masterpiece, if not to try to get it placed in the middle of the park? Why would the painter try to get a showing at the local gallery, if not to show off his art? And the writer—why hide your light beneath a bushel? Let your light shine before all men, that they may see your writing and enjoy it.

Validation is a step-by-step process for the writer. It involves workshopping, practicing (see my article on The Truth about Genius and ten-thousand hours of practice), and constantly learning. How I write today is much better than how I wrote last year. The writer must continue to grow, but validation from his peers doesn’t happen without growth and practice. There is rejection after rejection from publishers; there are harsh reviews and workshops from other authors; there is the need to accept the truth, to concentrate on one’s flaws and shortcomings, to take a good and hard look at the truth. Before validation can take place, the writer must examine his work beneath the scrutiny of the editorial microscope. Vainglorious remarks about past achievements must be laid aside. What was good enough last year is no longer good enough this year.

It is a process, to be sure. A process of painful self-scrutiny: the process of admitting that this piece isn’t as good as you felt it was when you’d written it the previous year. We have to lay aside hubris (for those who have it) and take up humility; lay aside preconceived notions of what we think quality consists of, and decipher what editors and readers and other writers believe is quality; try to master the cookie-cutter story template, and then move on into more experimental styles. We’re not here to become famous first and then finally get around mastering the craft of storytelling; we’re here to master the craft of storytelling, and to let carnal and vain imaginings fall to the wayside.

Life is about validation: validation from whatever god/goddess we believe in (even if it’s our atheistic principles); validation from the organizations we belong to; validation from the publishers we submit to; validation from our loved ones. The first-step of the validation process is self-validation. Some call it confidence—having the confidence to say, “This is my best work,” and putting it out there.

The second step of the validation process is learning from rejection: knowing when editors are wrong; knowing when we are wrong; bouncing our stories off our peers and writing groups; identifying and concentrating on what others label as our weaknesses; stretching our boundaries and learning new ways; perfecting and mastering what we’re good at, yet without abandoning our weaknesses; and comparing our work written today with what we wrote the previous year.

Is it better? Or does it read the same? Are we better adapted to write non-fiction than fiction; Romance rather than horror; Mystery rather than fantasy? What style and genre of our writing has produced the most complements?

Growth and evolution is the only way the validation process can commence. Along the way, personal changes will occur. Genres may be changed; styles may be altered; voices may alter due to “voice lessons.”

I think that’s it. In the end, it comes down to growth and evolution, being adult-enough to recognize that the weaknesses pointed out by our peers are things we need to work on. Working at our craft until self-validation erupts from within (that writer’s confidence). And to continue working on this slag of metal, hammering at it, until the true sculpture begins to manifest through blood, sweat and fears; banging at this craft we call writing, hammering at it until it our writer’s voice begins to shift into the self-expression already contained inside our hearts and souls; and time becomes our greatest ally, because it is only through time, patience and practice (ten-thousand hours of practice) that self-validation will eventually turn into validation from our peers.

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Comments
  1. Debs says:

    Good post, JAM. Growth and no fear. Who cares if you get rejected. Move on get more, learn what you can, and you might just get a yippee or two. It’s fun.

  2. Armada Volya says:

    I had a conversation with a fellow artist a few weeks ago. I was on my way to a show where I was performing and displaying my art. He said he doesn’t want to show his art to people because he doesn’t want people criticizing something he spent so much time on. For me it’s the opposite, I love getting feedback. You get to hear how good you are or what would need to be changed to make it better. Every criticism is a lesson, every lesson helps me get better. We have to have the confidence that we are good and the knowledge that we can always get better.

    Jeweler

    • JAM says:

      Agreed. I value the power of “workshopping” my short stories, of putting them before my peers before I edit my fiction, then reevaluating my work based on their comments. Then going into the true writing phase which is editing, editing, editing. And finally, getting it ready for what I consider the “copy-editing” phase, where the final typos are weeded out. Then finally submitting it to a publication, similar to putting it “on show” like an artist. Also, submitting fiction is similar to a traditional artist trying to get an art exhibit in a museum (if the publication is large enough and respected enough, that is).

      I enjoyed your comment; it got me thinking. 🙂

  3. Just the other day a friend of mine mentioned to me that she was a writer. I had no idea after knowing here for three years that she ever put pencil to paper (I guess more accurately fingers to keyboard). So when I asked her what writers group she belonged to, she said none. She didn’t want to share her work with anyone for two fears. First she told me the classic “I don’t want them to steal me idea” excuse. But with some digging, it turned out it was really a fear of having her work critiqued or worse rejected.

    There is a thought among new artists, that you can’t be rejected if you never share. But you can’t ever be accepted (or validated) either. Some people prefer to practice their art for themselves, but I think deep down all artists are really in it to share with others.

    About a year or so ago, I really took my craft seriously and joined a writer’s group online. It has jump started my abilities ten fold. I learned more in the last year then I did in the five years before. I even took the big leap (for me) of sending my work out for publication.

    I have got a lot of rejections. We all do. But like you said, JAM, you learn from those to. You realize art is subjectively viewed. Some people, including editors, simply won’t like your work because it is you craft. But even a personal rejection letter that says something like “well written piece but not a good fit for our publication.” can be a form of validation.

    We all want validation, to know we are good at what we do (even our hobbies). This was a great article JAM. I enjoyed it, and it taught me something too.

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