Overcoming Negative Feedback

I had a fellow writer email me not that long ago. She’d just found out that she didn’t finalise in a competition and was feeling down and dejected. I know of another writer that spent eight years receiving rejections from publishers before sinking into her ‘dark night of the soul’ and wondering if it was time to hang up her pen. Another author friend posted about a negative review she’d received, stating that usually she didn’t let them get to her, but this one had…

The undeniable truth is that sharing our creation with others involves judgement and evaluation. Some of that feedback gives us the high we’ve dreamed of since the moment we decided to publish. But some of that scrutiny sucks the wind out of our motivation. In this article, I don’t want to discuss the merit of that constructive criticism (in my experience some has some value, some is nothing more than an individual’s opinion), but how to handle the days that it knocks the smile off your face, undermines the faith in your talent, and has us reaching for wine or chocolate or a rerun of Friends – now that I can help you with.

First of all, I need you to humour me…

When I say ‘Africa’, what image comes to mind?

Something like this?

Africa 1.jpg

A land of magnetic beauty, elemental power, untamed colours. A continent of wide open planes and diverse vistas and majestic mountains. A country accented with the soundtrack of lions roaring, elephants trumpeting and hyena’s cackling. A spectacular smorgasbord of everything Mother Nature has to offer.

Or this?

 

Africa 2

The country with the highest child death rate, where there are 33 maternal deaths every hour, where an estimated 6.1 million people are living with HIV, where 358 million people don’t have access to clean water. A land of drought and overpopulation, deserts and corruption, death and poverty.

So which is the real Africa?

Technically both. And neither. More accurately, they’re just snapshots on a continuum of images and truths.

But this is what our mind does. It neatly parcels information into easily digestible portions. It has to create these little packages, these representations of our world, so it can cope with the volume of information it’s dealt with every day. Can you imagine trying to store, organise and retrieve all those details??? The filing cabinet in my head is already a mess, and that’s just the index cards! It’s a very clever and necessary process.

Are you starting to see how this relates to opinions of our writing? Our mind does the same thing with our perceptions of ourselves. It makes mental shortcuts, generalisations, and quite a few assumptions to fill in the gaps.

Allow me to demonstrate…

Which is the real Tamar?

  • Award-Wining Author – I’ve won the Romance Writers of Australia First Kiss competition twice (2015 and 2017) along with finalising in a couple of others.
  • Positive reviews for my work have included statements like – ‘The story is brilliant, it draws you in from the first word’, ‘I have read other paranormal books before and this is among one of the best’, and my personal favourite ‘much better than Twilight’.
  • I’ve just been invited to be a Resident Writing Coach with a major writer’s website (more information on that coming soon – I’m super-duper excited about it!).

Or…

  • An author that has failed to place in some competitions, with feedback that encouraged her to ‘keep trying’.
  • Her manuscript was rejected time and time again (I chose not to count…).
  • Some of her reviews have included statements like ‘seemed promising but failed’, ‘it was meh’ and the cutting ‘very bad, would not recommend’.

So which is the real Tamar? Which is the true reflection of my skills and abilities?

If I were to identify with the first description, my self-esteem would border on narcissistic (and there are not a lot of nice things to say about narcissism).

If I identify with the second list, I could end up wondering why I’m wasting my time with this writing caper.

Luckily, just like Africa, I am both and neither.

The real Tamar is a person that moves along a continuum of skills, thoughts and personality traits. You can’t capture her in a sentence, in a website, in a whole encyclopaedia. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this.

I’d encourage you to reflect on this, because what it shows us is that:

You are not one thing, good or bad.

You are not static, now or ever.

You are a kaleidoscope, you are perpetual motion, you are…a writer.

So when you get some negative feedback, whether it’s a harsh judge, or a brutal review, keep this in mind. I would love to hear what you think. Is it useful to remember that one perspective does not define us? Will it make a difference to how you feel about negative feedback? Comments and feedback are always appreciated. Connecting with others is why I write. You can comment below, or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Have a wonderful week,

Tamar

 

20 comments

  1. I was talking about this with a friend just yesterday. I was telling her that continuous rejection from agents made me doubt my writing skills. I think doubt is the worse part.
    Of course my mind knows there may be any kind of reasons why an agent rejects and a fair amount don’t have any relation to my writing. But I don’t know. Agents will never say why they reject. And not knowing is horrible, because we imagine any kind of bad things. And because we imagine, we doupt. Ourselves.

    So I think your suggestion (remembering both sides of us) may help cope with the doubts. I won’t say it will boost our self-esteem, but at least it can keep our self-deprecation at bay 😉

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Fantastic post! You’ve described something all of us have faced at one time or another and have helped put those “downer” rejections into perspective. That, I think, is the key. I’m what I like to call a pathological optimist. By that, I don’t mean my life has been all sunshine and roses or that I never experience moments of self-doubt when I get a lousy review. What it means is I’ve been blessed with the ability… especially now, as an old broad… to put things into perspective and to see the big picture. Overreacting to a single bad review or to fifty rejections, whatever, can be offset by remembering all of the terrific reviews and that one special acceptance when you needed it most. In other words, as my mother used to say, “This too shall pass.” A rejection, no matter how painful, still only represents a finite moment of time.

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  3. Great article! I loved the Africa metaphor.

    When I was querying agents, I made a collage of the good parts of the sentence in the letter before the word “however.” I kept the collage on my desk until I found my agent. It kept me thinking positively and persisting.

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  4. Hi Tamar,
    Love your posts, look forward to reading and this one was especially helpful. That example of “Africa” was really good!
    My email may be slightly off-topic here but the part I’m wondering now is, when does one take a cue? For example, given my marketing background, I hesitate to move forward further with a project unless my initial market testing is hugely positive. For example, a recent video production garnered 10 out of 12 positive reviews on Amazon last year. Great! Will continue. Another project got a “Meh” from newspaper editors after endless amount of polishing. Sure, I love writing, but at what point is the tipping point? I gave out 15 printed copies of polished draft of novel to acquaintances / two family members who I knew would be brutally honest. Eight came back and loved it, couldn’t put it down. Never heard from other 7 after two months and counting. So why continue with that novel? I understand rejection letters from editors and publishers, but when it comes from a sampling of the public that are your end users, how is an internal pep talk going to change the material and numbers and convince someone to publish it? Another project of mine has gained no traction in two years. Why continue with it when another one is clearly gaining traction. If the point is to communicate, why focus on one that no amount of cosseting is going to make an end user like? At what point do your numbers point you in a direction to continue or not when it comes to polishing and continuing with a particular story?

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    1. Hi Mark,
      You’ve struck a universal writers question – how/when will I know my work is good enough? (or as us Aussies would say – when do you know you’re flogging a dead horse?). I think my post touches on the fact that there is no definitive answer to this one because this is such a subjective business. Like I said, one of my books won two awards, but didn’t get past the first round in two others. If I’d listened to the two naysayers, I would have shelved it. It’s being published later this year. My current novel was knocked back repeatedly as paranormal romance was ‘dead’ – I almost gave up but tried one more time with a small press…the positive emails I’ve received from readers have me smiling every time they appear in my inbox. I have a friend who wrote a book, won an award, but still took two years to find a home in a publishing house. She very nearly gave up on it, but with encouragement and plain old grit, didn’t give up because she believed in her story. At the same time, I firmly believe our reader is our consumer – and they deserve a quality product. Particularly with self-publishing, there’s a lot of stuff out there that should’ve had some more work before it was made available for public consumption. I feel a whole new post coming on thanks to your question, because I think it depends on the feedback, on your gut, and whether you’re confident you’ve ticked all the ‘good book’ boxes – e.g. high concept, strong characters, great writing, polished product. I also don’t recommend using friends/acquaintances for critical feedback – they are wonderful for positive feedback (which is often genuine and so encouraging) but they feel less comfortable with the constructive feedback (they know they still have to see you and don’t want to feel like they’ve hurt your feelings no matter how much you tell them you’ll be okay with it) that can tell us what we might be missing. I think a summary of my non-answer is – go with your gut, choose what you want to focus your precious writing time on (something you feel is going to gain traction as you say), but also don’t give up on a manuscript if you really believe in its merit. What’s your thoughts?
      Have a wonderful day,
      Tamar

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      1. Hi! Thank you for such a lovely, helpful response. I can’t tell you how mind-clearing that was. Just as footnote though: I misspoke when I said I’d given the novel to acquaintances because that still indicates a bit of friendship involved. In this case, I’m not convinced one of them even likes me! That’s why I chose my beta readers as people who’d give me an honest answer. And I think I’ve gotten my answer by the fact that 7 out of the 15 drifted. That’s an honest reaction as far as I’m concerned. Even with 8 people absolutely loving it, the other 7, no matter what the excuse, should have also read it, even with varying degrees of enjoyment. To drift and nto finish it is obviously not good.
        I love writing, but as you say, the time is precious and there are many outlets I want to try getting my creativity plugged into. Not afraid of rejection but definitely afraid of wasting time. I’ve found in my other careers that one cannot show something to 10 people and when 6 out of ten say they like it consider it a success just because that’s a majority. It has to be a rabid 9 out of ten. Another project tested: 23 out of 23 kids liked it. BUT only 3 were hard-core in wanting to do more and come back. Projecting forward, yeah, okay, that means out of 1,000 kids you’d get 120 hard-core but it would involve a TON of push marketing to get to them. That’s a lot of time. While I understand each project is different, I’m believing more and more that unless a project is at that 90% of a committed embracing by the public, it needs either a major overhaul or leaving. Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Mark, I always find it fascinating how people frame their writing. Some writers would feel a 90% ‘pass mark’ is too high considering this is such a subjective business, but I also respect anyone that sets a high standard that aims at meeting the needs of their audience. Keep me posted 🙂

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