APPLAUSE. THERE IS NOTHING LIKE IT. Even the noblest among us, the most self-assured, modest, and self-deprecating have to admit that. Whether the soft nod or the standing O, whether it requires modifiers like rousing, tumultuous, or even piddling, what's not magical about someone, anyone, reacting positively to what you do, whatever it is you do? Or the buzz it creates, the light it seems to give off? And there is a kind of magic that happens when you are able to successfully shape a thought or an image into words, and for those words to inform, preach, or amuse, not only to your own satisfaction, but to ignite a positive response in a reader.
As I said in an earlier post, anyone who dares to create will have to negotiate through or around commentary, whatever form that commentary may take. It is part of the psychology/architecture of the craft. We write to arouse a response. We also write because we have a need to project, to raise our voice. If we are honest, all writers/artists/performers are a bit needy. That, too, is a part of the psychology (which is not a bad thing). Toxicity exists only at the extremes. When I heard the following statement by an award winning singer/performer/producer/mentor, I had to laugh (albeit, a small pitiful laugh).
Artists are egomaniacs with an inferiority complex.
Ouch. But Mr. Ritchie has a point. At some level, we are all informed by or shaped by the reaction to our work. As nice as it would be to simply plow on, line by line, and not think about an audience, I am not sure it is honest to think I can. Or
that I should. The audience is part of your writing team, even if, like Stephen King, that audience is one person, your Ideal Reader, as Mr. King calls her. The challenge is to keep your IR, as any effective team member, at your side, under your headship. Shakespeare, for all his godlike status, played to the crowd, and they loved him for it. But he was still Shakespeare, the pioneer, the innovator, the "maker of manners."
Having spent a couple of decades playing music shaped my perception of the writer-as-performer image, and I have always felt it an advantage. On a real stage, under real lights, the response is immediate. The writer, however, has to wait. With the stages that exist online, applause comes by a quieter method, that is, by way of a button—that magnificent, insidious, large, narcotic, boding, scoundrel, priestlike, and oracular LIKE button.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it.
—J. D. Salinger
The seasoned writer/artist invests her complete self into a performance, having rehearsed and rehearsed, having shaped her performance to a satisfaction. She has no need for immediate gratification other than her own. Her applause comes from a deeper, more inward spring. The LIKE button becomes the icing, the confirmation, reminding her of what she already knows, what she has worked hard to achieve. She is a shaper of opinion (again, a maker of manners).
For the unseasoned, LIKE becomes, or can become both muse and master, having more influence over a voice than should be allowed. The LIKE (or any form it takes) becomes the bully in that respect. It can usurp control over your art, shaping and reshaping it in its own image, bless and curse (to borrow a biblical construction) as it pleases. It has that power because we give it that power. Which reminds me; protect your confidence. It is more fragile than you think. Guard it. Show your work, but exercise caution. Seek equilibrium in every sentence you craft, every paragraph, the shape of every thought.
If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.
The point is this: LIKE has a powerful sorcery over us. This can't be helped in a solipsistic age (look it up), an age that has tuned us with such astonishing detail. The attraction can be narcotic, and we are all aware of the dynamics of dependency. That may sound strong, but it is something to be aware of. My suggestion is to respect it, respect the herd, even befriend it, but do not fear it, or put it too far out front. Like any opiate, you can lose yourself. Be challenged by the meddling little four-letter word, but remain master, both of it and of yourself.
One more thing. Thursday is Valentine's Day. Applause is love of a kind. But there is a better, warmer, more genuine version of it, one that doesn't require a stage. It is as close as the next kind word, the next selfless act.