The External Validation Ghoul and Me

Ooo, my first post here at BVC! And I have a question for you —  Do you have an External Validation Ghoul?

It’s okay. You’re not alone.

“Hi, my name is Laura Anne. I have an EVG.”

For those of you scratching your head and wondering what she’s on about, every now and then, some – many – of us fall victim to this dire beast, the phantasm that sits on your chest at 4 in the morning and tells you that you’re only as good as your last sale/review/promotion, and if there’s nothing in the pipeline you’re likewise not worth anything.

It’s enough to make you swear off pistachio ice cream before bed. Or maybe think about getting into a new, less stressful career. Like politics. 

The worst thing is that the Ghoul is not logical, and cannot be banished by logic. It is summoned not only by our own misgivings and insecurities, but by the good news of those around us. A peer hits a bestseller list, or a friend announces a sale, and 95% of our brain shouts “excellent! That’s great news!” We’re genuinely happy for them. And then 5% whispers “why haven’t YOU…?”

Nothing you say satisfies the EVG. The only thing that will appease it is external validation – a review, a sale, a check, a fan-letter. Fresh proof that you’re not the worst-ever to ever waste paper and ink.

Does any of this sound familiar? Yeah, I thought it might. Writers often like to pride themselves on being lazy, but scratch the veneer and borderline OCD overachievers shine through. It’s okay. It’s just how our brains work.

So, how do you kill the Ghoul?

Ideally, you have an understanding partner or best friend who can tell you it’s all right, you’re not going to get kicked to the curb by either your agent or your publisher (or both), your readers won’t turn on you, and yes, you will sell, if not the next project, then the one after that. They will give you excellent reasons-why, and a solid grounding in reality.

That may not be enough. What does your partner/best friend/parent/therapist know? (never mind that they may know a lot, the Ghoul isn’t listening).

In self-defense, I’ve discovered that my Ghoul can often be appeased by looking back over my Livejournal posts and pointing out how many good days I have in an average month, either sales or solid writing days, or positive feedback. Sometimes, though, that doesn’t work, and I spend all day thinking that everyone else is having A Better Life®, and what the hell can I do to kick it up a notch?

The truth is, you could be having the Bestest Day Ever, and the Ghoul could still appear. The EVG is omnipresent, and it’s always hungry. So what can a hapless writer do?

After a while you learn how to work with it, to use it as a spur in the slow moments, and a target in the bad ones. You work, and you get your stuff out there, and you hope and maybe even pray…and then you discover the key, the true and only exorcism available to mortal scribes; you kvetch with other people — and discover that they too have ghouls who whisper to them about how swell your life is, and how they’ll never match that.

After a few rounds of that, and some rueful laughter, the Ghoul will fade, appeased. For now….


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at Learn more at, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


The External Validation Ghoul and Me — 2 Comments

  1. Boy, do I have ghouls…multiple ghouls. I hope that this year, the Other Side will be more help than hindrance. It remains to be seen.

    It **is** absurd how, out of the blue, a good Amazon review can really help. Or a bad one sting.

    It may be time to form a Mutual Admiration Society group. We praise others weekly, in rotation….

  2. “It may be time to form a Mutual Admiration Society group. We praise others weekly, in rotation….”

    Better yet, the name gets picked from a hat, so you never know when something nice will come your way. Actually, that’s not a bad way to live, overall. Every week, pick someone’s name out of a hat, and say something nice to them, totally out of the blue…