Learning to Drop the Donkey–Is Perfectionism Killing Your Career?

 

All of us want to do a good job. We want to put our best foot forward. We all say that we want feedback and critique, but deep down, if we are real honest, we want people to love everything we say and do. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality. We can’t please everyone, and it is easy to fall into a people-pleasing trap that will steal our passion, our art, and our very identity.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again with writers. They rework and rework and rework the first chapter of their novel, trying to make it “perfect”—which is actually code for “making everyone happy.” Here is the thing. Not gonna happen. Ever. One person will say our book is too wordy. Another wants more description. We add more description and then another person is slashing through, slaughtering every adjective and metaphor.

Lessons from Aesop

I find it interesting that some of my favorite childhood stories were about character issues that I’ve struggled with my entire life. My favorite story Old Man Whickett’s Donkey and was loosely based off one of Aesop’s fables, The Man, The Boy and The Donkey. The story in a nutshell is this.

An old man and his grandson head to market with their donkey carrying bags of grain for sale. A passerby says, “What a fool. Why buy a donkey if you aren’t going to ride him?” In response to the critic, Old Man Whickett and the boy load up and ride the donkey into the next town where another passerby says, “You cruel lazy people. That poor donkey carrying all that weight. You should be ashamed.” So Old Man Whickett and the boy dismount and carry the bags of grain and the donkey (which seriously freaked out the donkey).

Anyway—and I am probably butchering this story, but give me a break, I’ve slept since I was five—Old Man Whickett and the boy keep trying to please everyone who passes and what happens? The bags of grain burst open and spill all over the road from being moved around so much (and in Aesop’s version the donkey falls in the river and drowns). They never make it to market and all of them are exhausted and half-dead from trying to please everyone.

Moral of the tale? Try to please everyone and we please no one.

This is a very useful lesson for us to remember not only in our writing, but when it comes to our brand. When I originally wrote my first book, the publisher wanted to call it Marketing for Writers. Deep down I knew the title was wrong and would be more likely to send writers running for the closest liquor store than inspire them to learn. I refused to move forward until we fixed the title. That was when Jen Talty asked me the key question. She asked, “What do you want readers to feel when they read this book?”

I replied, “I want writers to know they aren’t alone. They don’t have to do this by themselves.”

She said, “Then call it We Are Not Alone.”

The second she said the title, I knew it was perfect. I can’t tell you how many people told me it sounded like a science fiction book or a conspiracy theory site. I had many well-meaning people who told me the title would never work. It sounded too space alien and would confuse people. But you know what? We have to understand our target audience, create a brand and then stick to it. I stuck to We Are Not Alone and guess what? People’s brains did NOT explode when they realized I wasn’t going to tell them intimate secrets of Area 51.

You guys are so sharp. I knew it all along :D.

The Fine Line of Fools

We have to walk what I will call the Fine Line of Fools. There are two different types of fools. There are fools who plunge ahead and don’t ask for any feedback and ignore anyone who tries to warn there might be a problem. But then there is the other type of fool who can never seem to make up her mind. She keeps changing direction every time someone has an opinion.

All of us are in danger of being one kind of fool or another. While the wise writer is open to critique, she also needs to know when to stand her ground. If she doesn’t learn to stand firm, that’s when the donkey hitches a ride.

I would love to tell you guys I’ve never been either of those fools, but I don’t dig getting struck with lightning.

Perfectionism and People-Pleasing Mask Fear

I have learned through a lot of trial, error and stupidity that perfectionism and people-pleasing really are just an extension of fear. If we get everyone’s opinion about our book, web site, blog, color of fingernail polish, if someone else doesn’t like it, then we don’t have to own it.

“Well, that wasn’t my idea. That was Such and Such’s idea.”

Learn to Drop the Donkey

In this new paradigm, all of us need to learn to be leaders and leaders own everything, the good and the bad. That is no easy task, and I have to admit there are times my neck starts hurting and I get this lower back pain and then I realize…I’M CARRYING THE FREAKING DONKEY! DROP THE DONKEY, YOU IDIOT!

We have to be aware that people mean well. Humans offer constructive criticism to show love, even if there is nothing wrong. I’ve seen perfect works of fiction get eviscerated by well-meaning “helpful” critique groups. This is why it is critical to really understand the rules of writing, why it is essential to really know what our book is about, and to learn to be confident in our brand. This way, when well-meaning folk offer us poles and twine to tie up the donkey on a sledge, we can say, “No, thanks. I think my donkey can walk.”

So are you carrying the donkey? Do you find him difficult to drop? Do you fall into the trap of carrying your donkey? I know I am a notorious donkey-toter, but getting better every day. What tools, suggestion or advice would you offer to other who struggle with their respective donkeys? What are warning signs that you are carrying a donkey? How many of you just realized that I did not, in fact, hold the keys to Area 51?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

***IMPORTANT MESSAGE–For those who have not gotten back pages. My web site fiasco has been responsible for eating a lot of e-mails. Additionally I get about 400 e-mails a day and the spam folder has a healthy appetite too. It is hard to tell since some people never claim their prize, but I could have very well just not seen your entry. Feel free to e-mail it again and just put CONTEST WINNER in the header so I can spot you easily. (especially if your message is kidnapped by the spam filter).

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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  1. #1 by Jordan Hawk on May 30, 2012 - 1:47 pm

    Another great post! I’ve gotten better over the years, but I still have a hard time trying to strike that balance. I love what you said about people-pleasing really being about fear. I’d never thought of it that way, but, yeah, you hit the nail on the head. Fear is one of the big things I’ve been working on over the last few months–funny how many insidious ways it has of cropping up!

  2. #2 by Janice Heck on May 30, 2012 - 1:47 pm

    Kristen, I’ve got a whole back yard of donkeys that I am trying to corral. Getting better and faster at it every day! Getting peer recognition in the form of these blogger awards seems a little silly, but it actually is encouraging. I mention you and your book in my latest post: http://janiceheck.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/versatile-blogger-award-2/
    I’ve been hearing a bit about a WANA in-person meet-up. Sounds like a great idea.

  3. #3 by Mikalee Byerman on May 30, 2012 - 1:49 pm

    So we’re supposed to drop the donkey…but not into the river so it drowns, right? Because I’m in the editing process of my blog to book (which I’m thinking of calling a “blook”), and I wouldn’t mind finding the nearest river to drown it in!

    Kidding, of course.

    This is such great advice, Kristen. Thank you for the reminder. Now I’m off to unload the donkey. AWAY from the river…
    ;)

  4. #4 by athenabrady1 on May 30, 2012 - 1:50 pm

    Thanks Kirsten, thats just what I needed to hear today. Hope you enjoyed your break, glad to see you back.

  5. #5 by Rebecca Enzor on May 30, 2012 - 2:02 pm

    No wonder my neck hurts so often! That donkey is heavy.

    I am slowly starting to shrink the donkey, although I haven’t been able to drop him yet. But I am more critical of critiques, to make sure the suggestion is right for the book, and not just the person who read the book.

  6. #6 by Grass Oil on May 30, 2012 - 2:06 pm

    Thanks, Kristen, for the validation. I’m 15% (kindle!) into “Are You There Blog” and I’m loving it. You have much to say and we are lucky to “hear” you say it. I’m glad you had a nice break!

  7. #7 by S. J. Bickford on May 30, 2012 - 2:07 pm

    This reminder couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I think you just inspired me to write my first blog post this year. (Yes, I know. I shouldn’t even call it a blog ;-)

    • #8 by Belinda Pollard on May 30, 2012 - 9:30 pm

      Hey S.J. who says a blog can’t be annual? ;-)

      Perfectionism is probably the main thing that stops me blogging more regularly too.

      Kristen, I think I prefer Aesop’s somewhat darker version of the tale, where they drop the donkey in the river while trying to please everybody. My perfectionism-donkey fell in the river some time back, and was last seen swimming out to sea pursued by crocodiles and sharks.

      Perhaps I’d better start again with a new donkey. :-)

  8. #9 by MoniqueE. on May 30, 2012 - 2:11 pm

    I have yet to join a critique group, and I am looking forward to hearing from other writers. But I think what is most important is to believe in yourself, without someone telling you how great you are. Believing in the work is my goal. I won’t ride the donkey because I don’t want him to carry so much weight, and I’m letting the donkey walk on it’s own more and more. I mentioned both books on LinkedIn today in their Aspiring Writers group.

  9. #10 by lanceschaubert on May 30, 2012 - 2:14 pm

    Yeah, this one has me written all over it. It’s hard to drop the donkey. Good word.

  10. #11 by tomwisk on May 30, 2012 - 2:20 pm

    I carried the donkey, grain and the saddle. I could not keep from tweaking according to whoever read my work. I discovered if I didn’t mean it, I wouldn’t have written it in the first place.

  11. #12 by Christine Glover on May 30, 2012 - 2:21 pm

    I loved this post. I totally needed to read this as a reminder that I just have to the best I can for the revisions I”m working on and trust my process as well.
    :-)

  12. #13 by luckyfind on May 30, 2012 - 2:23 pm

    This is a tough lesson to learn. I always wonder what was said by the decision-makers when I submit a proposal, or enter a competition, and one of the other three hundred entries was the winner. The creative process is what I enjoy, discovering, composing, shaping and refining. I have become better at taking the rejections with a grain of salt. But it is still difficult when I’ve finished something and feel it’s good work, and then it doesn’t click out there in Donkeyland. I hope sometime on this journey more of the work I feel is my best gets through to the intended audience. I used to think it would help me if I learned what led to the rejections. But as you say, Kristen, the critics and rejecters probably often have reasons a particular writer couldn’t please anyway. We have to please ourselves, and hope our best work is appreciated. It’s an arduous process.

  13. #14 by annstanleywriting on May 30, 2012 - 2:23 pm

    I love the analogy! I’m at least getting ready to let go a little and stop reworking my novel. After this next edit, of course.

  14. #15 by ThreeKingsBooks on May 30, 2012 - 2:24 pm

    Of course, you’re right, but I have to say that my writing began to sell and resonate when I thought about my audience: the readers. I understand that’s different from listening to everyone’s comments and trying to incorporate them all. Still, it’s a wise writer who remembers that our stories may serve ourselves while inspiring others.

  15. #16 by malindalou on May 30, 2012 - 2:24 pm

    When trying to drop a donkey, it is important to remember who recommended that you carry him. Sometimes, well meaning people with little to no knowledge of your subject matter are the first ones to tell you to do things that make no sense.

    • #17 by Author Kristen Lamb on May 30, 2012 - 2:51 pm

      AMEN!

  16. #18 by Finn Jackson on May 30, 2012 - 2:26 pm

    Great advice, complete with colorful allegory to make it memorable–the hardest part of the battle. Thank you.

  17. #19 by andrewmocete on May 30, 2012 - 2:29 pm

    I think there’s a certain period of time where you need to build confidence, otherwise, you’ll change what you’re doing everytime someone says you should. You develop a Gut that sticks up for you when someone is trying to change your mind. There’s no way to say when a person gets to that point. Sometimes you think you’re ready to drop the donkey and you’re not. It happened to me and after getting smacked with the reality stick, I had to start repairing the Gut.

    Reasons I took the advice?

    1. I didn’t feel like I was under attack or under pressure to listen. The critique came from a place of wanting to help me. If it was mean-spirited or offered no ways to improve, I wouldn’t have listened.

    2. I asked myself if my friends understood the point I wanted to get across with my story. I decided they did. If I thought they were missing something, I’d explain it to them and, if needbe, clean up the writing so what I wanted to say comes through.

    I’m doing WAY better now. The Gut’s stronger than it was before, but I’ll still go through the same process evaluating critique. It just doesn’t make sense to take or not take advice without giving it some thought.

  18. #20 by Pamela Skjolsvik (@pamelaskjolsvik) on May 30, 2012 - 2:55 pm

    Sometimes I’ll look at something I wrote and say, “Did I write that?” Why? Because I’ve succumbed to the well meaning advice of others and made it theirs not mine. The only place I get to say what I want how I want it is on my blog. And that blog is donkey free! And like “donkey,” from Shrek, I like waffles.

  19. #21 by Lisa L Wiedmeier (@lisawiedmeier) on May 30, 2012 - 3:00 pm

    I’ve carried, dropped, then picked up again and nearly drown… I now walk alongside and nod at the comments choosing which to actually hear. Learning through trial and error is the hardest, but also the most effective.

  20. #22 by Catherine Johnson on May 30, 2012 - 3:10 pm

    Hee, haw! Awesome post, Kristen!

  21. #23 by August McLaughlin on May 30, 2012 - 3:32 pm

    You’re so right about perfectionism being an extension of fear. It’ll stop us in our tracks, keeping us from emerging from our writing caves if we succumb. As comfy as those caves can be, I think most of us want far more. :) Great post!

  22. #24 by TraceyLynnTobin on May 30, 2012 - 3:32 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with this post!
    A while back, on the advice of a friend, I joined a website called Critique Circle. In theory it’s a great place where you can post bits and pieces of your story and have people critique it for you. I enjoyed my time there (I left to focus on, you know…actually FINISHING my story), but I noticed a curious thing. For every critique I got listing x-number of issues, there was another critique that disagreed completely. One person thought I used too many adjectives, another didn’t think I used enough. One person loved my fight scenes, another hated them.
    As writers we have to learn to accept critiques at face value and be able to discern the good advice from the bad. And even when we have our list of “good” advice, we then have to realize that said advice may not apply to our particular story. It may even ruin it! There’s something to be said for artistic integrity, after all. :)

  23. #25 by Monique on May 30, 2012 - 3:50 pm

    In keeping with the rest, another great post! I’m still looking for the balance but I do know that I’m moving closer to finding it with every critique.

  24. #26 by S.Z. Williams on May 30, 2012 - 3:51 pm

    I used to carry the donkey a lot. And I’d do it without anyone’s critique. I imagined criticism and revised based on these crazy assumptions about what people would think. Once I realized that this habit was at the core of my writing rut, I worked on ignoring those voices. I wrote what I wanted to read. The first time I was published, I was finally able to accept that I should trust my own gut when writing and even when receiving critique.

  25. #27 by Joanne Guidoccio on May 30, 2012 - 4:24 pm

    Great post for those of us who carry the donkey. Thanks, Kristen!

  26. #28 by Jess Witkins on May 30, 2012 - 4:40 pm

    As a new writer this is tough to spot while in the process. I recognize it more in hindsight. Best we can do is try to learn from it and I like Andrew’s advice too about asking further whether the concept makes sense or not cause maybe you rewrite for clarification. If that’s not it then it’s the fine line of is it my donkey or a little darling right? So bigger question: does it move the story forward?

    Man, I’ve learned so much from you Kristen! Thank you.

  27. #29 by vsvevg on May 30, 2012 - 4:47 pm

    Wow, Kristen I swear everytime I need to hear something you are right there sayin it. You are in the flow, and I am so thankful to have found you. Abby P.S. I am keeping my book title! Humble Pie, a memoir of meals and metamorphisis in Mexico. Thanks.

  28. #30 by Elisa Nuckle on May 30, 2012 - 5:02 pm

    I tend to want to fix and fix and fix my stories, show them to a group of friends, who almost always have criticisms. Then I go back and fix and fix and fix some more. Only recently have I realized that this is a major drag — oh hello donkey. D:

  29. #31 by Imelda Evans on May 30, 2012 - 5:04 pm

    I think one of the antidotes to this, for writers, is to write more. The more you write, the more your voice and style will develop and strengthen and the easier it will be to decide whether feedback is helping or changing stuff unecessarily. I have also found entering competitions to be invaluable, especially ones judged by readers. Other writers can get hung up on ‘rules’ sometimes (we all have our own journey and issues, bless us!) and sometimes a critique group can be too close to your material. Having completely fresh, anonymous eyes read it can throw up stuff that really needs to be fixed and confirm you in the things that don’t. Competitions where you get to see two or three or more score sheets are really good for this, because you can compare.

  30. #32 by annerallen on May 30, 2012 - 5:18 pm

    Fabulous post. I wish somebody had given me this advice when I was starting out. Every rejection I got, I rewrote my book. I also tried to please every critiquer who read my work. When I finally got a publisher, my editor asked me to cut a bunch of stuff: all things I’d added to please other people. Not one of his edits changed my original work. I could have written two more books in the time it took me to do all those worthless rewrites.

    Great advice in the comments, too. Imelda is right about some critique groups being “too close to the material.” Entering contests that give critiques and “score sheets” is a great idea.

  31. #33 by dndoor on May 30, 2012 - 5:24 pm

    Yes, yes, yes! I carried the donkey when i first started writing and would send fresh,unedited stuff out to friends and family to read. I’m horrified at the thought now. But it was all about hearing someone tell me those famous lines from THE HELP:
    You is good.
    You is kind.
    You is important.

  32. #34 by charl1010 on May 30, 2012 - 5:31 pm

    Nice work and if you are an unwanted child and is an abused child then that will force you into a suffering people pleaser. you constantly seek your parent’s withhelp approval and that take shape on you for several years and for decades.

  33. #35 by Michele Shaw on May 30, 2012 - 5:41 pm

    Sadly, I’ve been fool #2 more than once, trying to make changes on feedback when I shouldn’t. But as with every part of this journey, I think I needed to go through that to learn from it. Now I need reminders (like this great post) not to fall back into that pleasing role when I have strong feelings that run opposite of feedback. I remind myself to say thank you and take note that the opinion expressed, while maybe valid to the giver, just doesn’t fit with the trajectory of my story or my goals for it. What is most important is that I consider the ideas offered since that person took the time to read and give them. I’m working really hard not to be such a pleaser in all aspects of my life, but bad habits die hard.

  34. #36 by Dahnya Och on May 30, 2012 - 5:45 pm

    I’d never heard this fable myself, but now I’m pretty interested in tracking down the real version. While I don’t mind your retelling, I think something was lost in translation.

    Anyway. This was an amazing post and thank you for sharing it. I’m super guilty of carrying the donkey and I’ve been trying really hard lately to stop. Sometimes I feel like I’m carrying the donkey by not trying to carry the donkey though…

  35. #37 by Reetta Raitanen on May 30, 2012 - 6:24 pm

    Wonderful fable, Kristen. I’m not far enough in my writing yet to suffer from the sin of the writing committee since I haven’t shared it for critique. My biggest donkey is my difficulty of saying no when anyone asks me for help. And even more the fool, if no one else seems to be volunteering to do something, I’m the one saying I can do it. Fun and important duties all but they seriously rob time from writing.

  36. #38 by tomburkhalter on May 30, 2012 - 6:34 pm

    There’s a certain irony inherent in your second paragraph in that “honing that first chapter,” (AKA “keep polishing”) is the advice editors and agents consistently gave to the unpublished writer back before the e-revolution (and maybe still today for all I know). How many articles in the magazines had titles like “Write a Killer First Chapter”? The irony lies, of course, in wondering just whose voice was expected to emerge from all that trying to please everyone and therefore no one? So, a good post and good advice.

  37. #39 by 1stpeaksteve on May 30, 2012 - 6:56 pm

    At this stage in my writing career, my donkey is just grazing in a field and my biggest victory is when someone notices it!

    In the future, when it comes down to gazing at outlines and pages of notes, I will just try to think back to when it was a bit more organic. Maybe that might help me make sense of it all.

    By the way, I am a fan of that donkey pic as well!

  38. #40 by colinfalconer on May 30, 2012 - 7:57 pm

    I wish I’d listened to my instinct more in my career. The trouble with being stubborn (like a mule) is that sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between digging your heels in on something and intuition. I’m still trying to learn the difference. Getting better at it though. I think reading the Amazon review pages for books I’ve LOVED is good for that, seeing how some people loathe the very same books I’ve loved. That’s taught me a few things!

  39. #41 by True STORIES. on May 30, 2012 - 8:32 pm

    Great post. I’m in a phase of my writing career where thinking about this donkey is going to be a perfect reminder for me. Thanks. I already love him.

  40. #42 by Tahlia Newland on May 30, 2012 - 9:10 pm

    Terrific post. Balance and gut feeling are so important when responding to criticism. You’re right about fear being at the basis of this kind of wavering. Doubt in yourself is the other thing. That’s the donkey I carry. I want to be sure that I’ve put out a good product, but if we’ve made our decisions based on knowledge and understanding of our craft then we should be able to have that confidence even if some people rubbish our work. (I’m trying to convince myself here) At the moment, I think I’m my worst critic. I keep looking at my almost-ready-for-the-editor project and wanting it to be perfect. As you’ve pointed out in such a timely fashion, in reality, no book is perfect, at least not for everyone.

  41. #43 by Michael Rochelle on May 30, 2012 - 9:21 pm

    Kristen, this was an amazing post that not only covers writing, but tackles many aspects of our lives. I majored in English/Creative Writing so I’ve gotten feedback that applied to me and my work, but I also received feedback that would make my work more like the work of the person doing the critiquing. That was never my goal. I wanted to write well. Not write the story on my classmates’ or teachers’ hearts and minds.

    This was the perfect kick-start to what I consider to be my last beginning/revision of the story I’ve been writing for the past five or so years.

    Awesome post.

  42. #44 by Yvette Carol on May 30, 2012 - 9:34 pm

    Hi Kristen… our children teach us a lot about self-confidence and donkey-dropping. Don’t you find the spawn is that way for you? My middle child in particular, boyo, there is no way I ever have to worry about child-napping, or molestation or any of those awful parent worries with him. He says NO and means no. In fact many times I’ve begged and pleaded & cajoled with him. He’s watched me sweat buckets while he’s steadfastly maintained course on his original decision. The sun would have to come up on a different side of the world for there to come a day when that boy would became a pushover. So whenever I doubt myself or wonder how to stay true to myself I just think of my boy. It helps me every time!
    Yvette Carol

  43. #45 by Alarna Rose Gray on May 31, 2012 - 12:53 am

    Always love your illustrative stories, Kristen :) I’ve not always been good at taking criticism. But I’ve had to learn to try and differentiate between types of critiques. If a writer gives criticism, I try to be aware of their possible bias, take what is valuable and leave the rest. If a reader (who is not a writer) gives criticism, I try to hone in on their emotional response to the material, rather than their technical. It seems to help keep me on track :)

  44. #46 by karencotton on May 31, 2012 - 12:55 am

    Kristen,
    How strange …I am working on the beginning of my children’s book. I’m the second kind of fool. I’ve gotten too many opinions about it and I’ve rehashed it over and over. You’re right about fear and confidence. I love the donkey story, but how sad that it drowns ;(
    Karen

  45. #47 by Andi on May 31, 2012 - 7:26 am

    Perfectionism has always been an obstacle in my life, but it wasn’t until I was faced with a younger, male version of myself, that I realized something needed to be done to reconcile my need to ‘get it right’ every time. I was a do it perfect, or don’t do it all kind of person and I led by example. It was exhausting. I knew I was OCD-ish, admitted it freely and knew that I had to be careful not to take my obsessions to far, as I frequently told myself, life is short and we learn from our mistakes. But, for some reason, I still did everything just so. So when I started writing, of course the need for it to be perfect was always looming, and, of course it never was. Over the past few years, I’ve learned to drop the donkey. I have novel length pieces of writing that will likely never see the light of day because they are tainted by having been the ones that could never be perfect, and I’m ok with that. Lessons learned. In my recent writing, I have the patience to get it to my best, but not expect to please everyone, and I’m good with that. Now my biggest challenge is convincing my 17 year old son (the younger, male version of me) that being perfect is not important! – That and getting comfortable with the idea of sending out a query.

  46. #48 by Cheryl Fassett on May 31, 2012 - 8:16 am

    Thanks for the great post, Kristen!! Perfectionism left me frozen in place. Submit something?? But it isn’t perfect yet! Four years of not only not submitting, but not even editing my novel for fear of messing up the good parts. I put the donkey down this year and edited and
    shared my book with some people close to me, and just yesterday, submitted the first five pages of my work for the very first time! :-)

  47. #49 by nancyelizabethlauzon on May 31, 2012 - 8:23 am

    You know, I used to try to please everyone, but the older I get the wiser I am. Now I write for myself and my readers, and yeah, there’s not a lot of them out there – yet – but the good news is I don’t care anymore. I just love what I’m doing. Look at two very successful books out there right now – the Twilight Series and Fifty Shades of Gray – they’re not perfectly written, by any stretch – but they’re immensely popular. Nuff said ;)

  48. #50 by gnuchols on May 31, 2012 - 9:09 am

    Loved your story about farmer trying to please everyone and ending losing everything. I find I can remember bits of wisdom if it comes in story form. I will remember this piece of advice. Thanks.

  49. #51 by sfbell09 on May 31, 2012 - 10:02 am

    Terrific post. Yesterday I had to face down the donkey and wound up being fool #2. Coincidentally, it was over the title of a novella I just finished. The current title was called ‘confusing’. After reflection and sulking, this morning I grudgingly admitted the truth, and started working on a new title. This post makes me feel much better since I can now identify how I was blocking myself from moving forward. Thanks!

  50. #52 by Margarita on May 31, 2012 - 10:09 am

    My own epiphany on this topic came years ago as I was trying to please everyone and failing miserably. It goes like this: If I’m going to be damned if I do, and damned if I don’t, then I’ll be damned my way. In the ensuing years, I have learned to take it all in, check in with Inspiration, and proceed accordingly. Thanks for the reminder! :)

  51. #53 by Jen Talty on May 31, 2012 - 11:24 am

    Glad that We Are Not Alone struck a cord with you and that it stuck. It just made perfect sense when you described to me your vision.

    You’re never going to please everyone. Even when we know that, its hard to keep it in perspective. Not everyone is going to like my decisions, but in the end I have to do what I think is right and best, even when it means making a tough choice.

  52. #54 by Julie Glover on May 31, 2012 - 11:41 am

    I’m going to use that phrase…a lot: Drop the donkey. Awesome!

    I’m a recovering perfectionist myself. Sometimes I like to sing Ricky Nelson’s song, Garden Party, in my head; “It’s all right now, I learned my lesson well. You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.” I need to be humble and open enough to receive quality advice, but at the end of the day I also need to be pleased with my own product or it isn’t my product at all.

  53. #55 by Jon Rieley-Goddard (@baldyblogger) on May 31, 2012 - 2:07 pm

    When I preach, I try to offer a vivid image. Like carrying the donkey. That donkey just won’t go away. I will cop to rather eating dirt than getting feedback. I guess my humility sometimes wears an arrogant face. Your tagging fear as the driver is right on, too.

  54. #56 by Anna Howard (@aehowardwrites) on May 31, 2012 - 2:40 pm

    Thank you, I needed this post today ;-) and I’m adopting the drop the donkey phrase too, awesome!

  55. #57 by alicamckennajohnson on May 31, 2012 - 2:57 pm

    Kristen this is perfect timing for me, I keep comparing my writing career and the success of my blog to everyone else and feeling like I fall short every time. I need to do my own thing, see if their is advice, critique, ideas I can take from others to improve but remember this is my journey and it’s unique.

  56. #58 by Go Jules Go on May 31, 2012 - 5:14 pm

    I think ‘knowing your donkey can walk’ and finding your voice are kind of one in the same. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re confident enough to follow your own voice until it comes into question and you find yourself saying, “No way, Jose.” I remember someone asking me to put up a guest post on my blog for the first time, and that’s when I realized how sacred my blog was, and how much of a brand it was [to me]. I could tell immediately this was a bad fit, and it made me very protective of what I had created. That, in turn, gave me more confidence to own up to whatever future decisions I made/make! But, like you said, it’s DEFINITELY a constant work in progress.

    Thank you for another wonderful post :)

  57. #59 by Judy on May 31, 2012 - 6:17 pm

    Oh yes I’ve carried the donkey, broken the bags of grain, rode on top of the bags. And well, came to the same place you are talking about. My skin has thickened andmy brain has opened. I can now listen to all the critique in theworld and then do my own thing. Not that it is good, great or perfect. But I’ve given up on all that. I just want to smile and make others do the same.

  58. #60 by Judy on May 31, 2012 - 6:18 pm

    Reblogged this on Dreamin' and commented:
    I love this lady. Like me, do you carry the donkey or ride the Donkey?

  59. #61 by Jolyse Barnett on May 31, 2012 - 6:28 pm

    Excellent post!

    The donkey is why, during my second year of writing, I focused more on brainstorming and plotting my next books before writing and editing for others to critique. Now I know my next stories well enough to defend my rough drafts when getting critiqued. I hope all my pre-writing work will make writing that dreaded synopsis not so dreadful this time around.

    Marketing for Writers. Ugh. WANA. Much better.

  60. #62 by M. Darin Young on May 31, 2012 - 8:45 pm

    You mean I’ve scoured this tie for hidden clues to the keys to Area 51 and they aren’t here? Man, have I wasted my time. :-) Thanks for the post.

  61. #63 by Jessica Thomas on June 1, 2012 - 8:19 am

    I’m definitely a victim of perfectionism. Sometimes I have to dare myself to just let a project go. For me there is definitely some ego and people pleasing involved, neither of which are healthy. Thanks for the reminder.

  62. #64 by katmaxwell on June 1, 2012 - 8:44 am

    I too have fallen victim to trying pleasing every reader/critiquer. But I’ve learned you can’t please everyone so now I write for myself. Thanks for the blog. Loved it.

  63. #65 by Grass Oil on June 1, 2012 - 2:49 pm

    Kristen, I appreciate you. I did something today that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do and well, if my parents never talk to me again, there it is. I’ll have to live with that. But I thank you and I also linked to this here post of yours about the donkey because I think people need to read it too. Thank you. http://mollyfielddotcom.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/real-30/

  64. #66 by Tracy Campbell on June 2, 2012 - 1:25 pm

    Hi Kristen:
    This post was written for me, thank you!
    I wrote a post today about writers who inspire me and you’re on that list.
    I linked your blog to my site.
    Although I don’t comment often, just know I read them all.
    Thanks

  65. #67 by nicolepyles on June 3, 2012 - 12:38 am

    Great post! This is so tough though. When you post yourself out there you are vulnerable as it is…and to hear criticism, it’s a balance between understanding the criticism and deciphering which pieces you want to keep. And damn, that takes maturity. I try my best and I try to rewrote and get a hold of the story as much as I can on my own before I shown it to someone. That way I have a good grasp on what I’m trying to say and the story I’m telling!

  66. #68 by amberdover on June 5, 2012 - 12:03 am

    Reblogged this on amberdover and commented:

    Hello friends :) It’s Hear the Writer Roar! Tuesday :) Enjoy the reblog. God bless and remember the High King Lives!
    -Amber Dover

  67. #69 by Scott and René on June 5, 2012 - 11:31 am

    When I first started writing poetry….my mom would always point out all my grammatical errors. UGH! And I used to make changes to the poem that I was not always happy with. Eventually…I started saying “NO!” That I would not make the changes because they did not reflect who I was. The same is true now in the workforce. As long as I know I am doing the job to the best of my ability…and I meet the demands that are presented to me….I am happy. Of course…sometimes…the challenge can be a good thing. So I am sort of torn on this subject when it comes to my professional career.

  68. #70 by Laura Pauling (@laurapauling) on June 8, 2012 - 6:34 pm

    Thankfully I’ve moved past this point. I look forward to beta readers’ critiques because I want to make my stories better. Like Anne, I could’ve used this advice earlier on, but something you have to learn by experience.

  69. #71 by debbiemorella on June 9, 2012 - 9:55 pm

    Oh yeah, been there. But I’m happy to say that I replaced the donkey with a puppy, carried him around for awhile, and eventually replaced him with a bunny. Now I’m looking for a psychic talking parrot who will fly on my shoulder when needed and whisper in my ear, “Listen to him”, “Ignore her”, “Go with your gut”, and other such words of wisdom. Wish me luck… I heard they’re hard to find.

  70. #72 by artinstructor on June 10, 2012 - 3:56 pm

    I love the donkey story. It makes me laugh at something that is so frustrating. I am not a writer but a fine artist – who also has the same issues. I recently thought of a story and tried to write it out. The 1st draft was free and fun. The 2nd draft was more descriptive. After multiple drafts, my son asked me if I had the original. I said no and I was a bit sad.

  71. #73 by artinstructor on June 10, 2012 - 3:59 pm

    Reblogged this on artinstructor and commented:
    Even though this is about writing it also is about creating. In Fine Art we can get trapped in pleasing the audience. Our work can become insipid.

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