I'm going to tell you a little story about being an artist.
When I was 13 and in the 9th grade I decided that I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to paint. I wanted to draw. I wanted to sculpt...and I was stuck in a math & science high school for gifted kids. I started teaching myself to draw, to paint, to sculpt. Every once in a while I would take classes in Manhattan. There I was, a 13 year old who was self-taught in art classes full of 18-45 year olds who had been trained in the Fine Arts for most of their lives.
I was terrified. I was also determined. I could have taken beginner classes but I didn't. I was going big or I was going home.
Now, there were times when a teacher, or one of those professionals who scared the shit out of me, would pull me aside and tell me how amazing they thought my work was. For every one of those people there were five other people who raked me over hot coals and tore my work to shreds. They didn't care that I was only 13. They didn't care that I was shy. They didn't care if they hurt my feelings or my pride.
As much as it hurt to put everything into a drawing and then have someone tell me that it's crap, those people had the right idea. They pulled no punches. Probably more than half of my work was crap and they forced me to see it for what it was, they forced me to stay humble, they forced me to get better.
I heard about an art school in Manhattan that took only 60 new students every year and gave them all 4 year scholarships. People told me what it was about my work that was shit (and there was alot that was shit). I LISTENED. I worked my ass off and changed things and then I showed my new paintings and drawings to the people who were being honest with me. I did this over and over again. They criticized and I LISTENED.
I applied to exactly one college. A panel looked over my work and then sent me home to wait. The college took people of all ages. I was going up against some people who were in their thirties, people who had already had gallery showings, people who knew what they were doing. I had taken a handful of classes. I got in.
The biggest reason why I got in? It wasn't because I have raw talent. Alot of people have raw talent. It was because I let people tell me the harsh and real truth about my work.
When someone said "Laddie, what the fuck is THIS? Your perspective is crap. Are you even trying? Your lines are weak, your shadowing is wrong, these proportions are for shit!"....
I looked at my stuff and I said to myself "What is this? This perspective is crap. God, I'm not trying hard enough. These lines are weak, there shouldn't be a shadow there and I need to make this proportionate to that." and then I would start all over again.
So, what does this have to do with writing? No matter what you're creating the basic process is the same. You write something, you draw something, you paint something. You take a step back, look at it, try to find what can be better and then you fix it.
Now, it's great when someone says "Oh, that's so beautiful and wonderful and amazing!".
Everyone wants to be praised but, in my opinion, an artist should want more than anything to be criticized.
Praise is not going to make someone a better author or artist. Constantly working on what it is that's wrong with your work, the things that just don't work, the shit that sucks...that's what makes an artist better. When an artist or author surrounds themselves with people who never point out the things that can be done better then that artist/author is going to become stuck. They will never improve and they will begin to take whatever talent they have for granted.
It's my opinion that an artist/author should never fall in love with the way they write, paint, draw, etc. They should always be evolving and searching for ways to be better. I hold criticisms close to my heart and revisit them frequently. It makes me a better artist.
So, while I say thank you when someone praises me, the question that I most find myself asking is not "Do you like it?" it's "What don't you like about it?".