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Hang Ten: Riding the Waves of Dismay July 8, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Blogging, Humor, Spirit & Ego, Writing & Writers.
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Over the past two years, I’ve provided feedback to writers on WEbook with rather predictable results:

* A writer asks me to review something. 

* I review it and provide him or her with the type of feedback I like to receive – direct, honest, and to the point.  

* In response, the writer gets angry, annoyed, discouraged, and/or disheartened. 

Why? 

Isn’t that what a writing site is for?  Isn’t that what they wanted me to do?

One writer described his own writing (in the piece he asked me to review) as “lame.”  I suggested a few revisions ~ including taking out HIS reference to the lameness of his writing. 

I viewed my feedback as encouraging, not disparaging.  He responded by immediately removing the piece from the project to rewrite it, but not until after he expressed surprise at my comments . . . 

He said that he was new to WEbook and that several “great” writers on the site had told him that his writing was “great,” giving him a sense of “greatness” that he had come to rely on. 

Ah, yes, the danger of receiving insincere feedback ~ we are told so often that we are “brilliant” that we begin to believe our press.

Another writer asked me to take a “glance” at his novel to see if there was anything he had missed.  After explaining that I do not read (or proofread) entire novels on the site, I agreed to take a peak. 

I suggested a few revisions, which he thanked me for in an e-mail.  Good.  Better.  I sent him an e-mail back saying that I was glad that he had taken my suggestions in stride, rather than getting annoyed and angry with me for providing constructive criticism. 

He replied back, admitting that a “wave of dismay” had washed over him as he read my words about the confusing nature of his first chapter ~ which included introductions to at least ten characters, many of whom were not even on the “stage” yet.   

Why would my suggestion that he wait to introduce a few of those characters until later in the book cause a wave of dismay?  

He asked me for feedback, and I gave it.  It’s just my opinion which he, as the author, can choose to incorporate, or not.  

As John Lennon would say, “It’s nothing to get hung about.” 

Or is it?

In response, I asked a rhetorical question: 

How would I have learned to play the piano if my teacher hadn’t pointed out the wrong notes when I hit them?     

He responded by saying that, in his view, writing is different than learning a musical instrument.  His opinion, which I suspect many writers share, is that writing is the most personal of all the arts (painting, writing, singing, etc.) because writers view their writings as extensions of themselves. 

Since they are sharing their inner most thoughts, they feel personally  rejected (and even ostracized) when others don’t immediately embrace those thoughts.

Aha! 

That’s the reason my feedback (aimed at helping writers clarify their communication skills) is not embraced with joy more often ~ because people think their thoughts are an extension of themselves. 

And I, generally, do not. 

In meditation, the meditator learns to clear the mind of thoughts and be the silent observer.  As thoughts enter the arena of the mind, the silent observer is instructed to watch them, like drifting clouds across a blue sky, and let them go . . .  without chasing after them. 

In time (or, more precisely, in the absence of time), the silent observer  realizes that those thoughts arise independently, without any effort on the observer’s part. 

With that realization comes the understanding that you are NOT your thoughts and your thoughts are NOT you.  Instead, you are merely a disinterested observer watching the clouds (thoughts) go by.

For a different analogy, think of your mind as a TV, and your thoughts as the shows broadcast on the TV. 

Are you the TV?  No.  Are you the shows?  No.  Who are you then?

You are the silent observer sitting on the sofa with the remote in your hand.  You are the controller.  You are free to change channels or turn off the TV entirely at any time. 

Talk about power! 

Once you realize that you hold the remote, your inner power becomes your own ~ you stop giving away your power to others.  They lose the ability to make you feel angry, or sad, or slightly off balance, or riddled with guilt.  You become less affected by what others around you do and say. 

You rise above the fray and watch the daily dramas play out before your eyes without getting sucked into them.  You more often are able to remain calm in the midst of mayhem.   

Once you stop taking everything so “personally,” you realize that you are more powerful and “in control” than you ever imagined.  

You cannot, of course, change “what” happens to you ~ but you accept the “what is” more readily because you now know “how” to look at what happens to you in a new way, an empowering way.      

And . . . if you are a writer . . .  you are finally able to accept feedback (from people like me) in the spirit in which it is offered ~ just the pointing out of a few “wrong notes”  ~  nothing to get hung about.   

When you agree with the feedback, you nod knowingly and play the notes you meant to play all along (by fixing misspellings and other typos).  When you disagree, you continue to make your own kind of music ~ introducing characters in your novel where and when you want, thank you very much.

Your thoughts, whether on paper, or swirling around in your head, should be tools used to help you maneuver through life ~ they should not be stumbling blocks to get hung up on.  

So the next time a “wave of dismay” washes over you, just click your heels together and repeat after me: 

“I am NOT my thoughts.  My thoughts are NOT me.” 

Related posts:  Meditation 101 * Don’t Believe Everything Your Think * Attack of the Killer ANTs * The Serenity Principle * The Path to EnlightenmentA Warm Hug for a Sad Child * We See The World Behind Our Eyes * Maybe You’re Right * Doubt

Comments»

1. cindy - July 8, 2010

And, hey! – if you’re going to get hung about you’d best just keep yourself a secret little Microsoft Word folder for your stuff. Not everyone is going to like what you write. Live with it.

Richard W Scott - July 8, 2010

And that’s a fact, Cindy

nrhatch - July 8, 2010

I wrote a “lovely little limerick” for a humorous poetry anthology touching upon just that ~ Ego’s desire to be applauded for its efforts, however modest:

You have captured the angst
That swirls round their ranks
Their words are absurd
But they want to be heard
And that’s why their poetry tanks!

Instead of spending time to carefully craft thoughts worth sharing, the “emo poets” just throw a few words on paper and expect everyone to bow down to their brilliance.

And when that doesn’t happen, they sulk.

2. Richard W Scott - July 8, 2010

Nancy,

A long, but worth-while post. For much the expeience you’ve outlined here, I have, for the most part, left WEbook. It was a wonderful stepping stone, but the politics bacame too much for me, and the coddling too time consuming.
I agree that writing is a very personal thing (although I think singing is more so–more out there and vulnerable). That said, I would add that writing only STAYS personal as long as you keep it to yourself.
As soon as you put it up for the reading and reviewing of others all bets are off.
False modesty (“my work is lame, but please read it anyway.”) is a poor way to ilicit a true response from a reviewer. A sugared review may feel good, but you can trust agents and publishers to just roll their eyes if the work isn’t up to par.
And that’s the bottom line. If a writer’s reason for writing is to fool him (or her-) self, or to feel good among a small circle of friends, that’s one thing, but if the writer wants to sell, then it is time to listen, consider, and make changes where necessary.
Cindy has it right in one. I don’t care if you are the next Hemingway, or your work wins a Pulitzer. Some people won’t like it, and they’ll say so publically. Get over it.

nrhatch - July 8, 2010

What a terrific summary, Rik ~ and I am not just saying that to stroke your Ego. {{wink}}

I rarely visit WEbook these days. In the early days, a few writers (such as yourself) really used the site to master the art of writing ~ to get over the self-consciousness of putting their work “out there” for the world to praise or damn.

Then “cliques” formed with the sole purpose of mutual praise and admiration ~ Wow! No, yours is Wow!

Now, it’s more a billboard for whatever people want to spit out of their keyboards rather than a site designed to hone the craft of writing.

So, I stopped wasting my time providing detailed feedback to everyone who asked for it . . . realizing that’s not what they wanted at all.

3. Richard W Scott - July 8, 2010

Oh, right… there was something more I wanted to say about your post. Rather, I wanted to say that I saw a part of a movie, yesterday, that your post puts me in mind of.

It is called: “Rachel Getting Married”. It is certainly not for action film fans, but it does take an interesting and in-depth look at a dysfunctional family. Blame, blindness, misunderstanding on purpose, spite, vitriol, the works.

I had to turn it off, it was such a downer, but if I were writing a scene like that, what a great resource it would be.

nrhatch - July 8, 2010

Hmm . . . normally I like movies with happiness and light, but occasionally it’s nice to remind myself that “they are out there.”

Sounds like a useful piece of research on all the ways our Ego makes us miserable. : )

4. deepercolors - July 8, 2010

So… None of you have ever had ‘waves if dismay’? Or are you not willing to admit that you have? I have them frequently. I am kind of in one right now. Like a why the bleep did I ever think I could write thing. I hear from published writers that they still feel that as well sometimes. (Published ? A lot of “published” works I have read lately are not all that good. Maybe they didn’t take critiques to heart. :-] )
I have thickened the old skin a little – so that I can recognize good points that need to be addressed earlier, but I still wilt under a general comment that is not specific to a particular problem and says something like your writing is predictable, or not enough setting (or too much setting) – this from the same piece of writing – from two different people. And so on. Sigh.
Anyway, I understand waves of dismay. It’s kind of like calling a baby ugly. It may be, but you don’t want to say that to the mother, unless the loks are a sign of something wrong that can be fixed.
A critiquer has to not get feelings bent out of shape if someone gets upset. Or offended if someone tells him/her that the ideas aren’t good. Of course, i a critiquer doesn’t get it, the author does need to take another look and make sure that he/she is saying on the paper what was in the mind.
Anyway, waves of dismay – please stay away, but if they don’t – at least don’t take it personally.
Well.. so much for that rant.

nrhatch - July 8, 2010

Carolyn, to answer your question:

No, I don’t suffer from waves of dismay (anymore). Nor do I get caught up and artificially elevated by casual, insincere words of praise tossed my way.

Using an outward focus to judge our creative efforts is counter-productive. Instead of saying, “I like this,” we waste time running around trying to get others to validate us with what (often) is nothing more than an insincere opinion because they have been socialized not to tell us that our babies are ugly.

If we enjoy the journey of writing, and know that the “end result” is our “best effort,” why worry about what other people think of it?

You can please some of the people, some of the time . . . aiming to please “all of the people” is a colossal waste of time.

I focus on writing what I would enjoy reading . . . and trust that my intended audience will appear while those not intended to be in my audience will drift away.

5. nrhatch - July 8, 2010

Also, anyone who takes the time to provide honest, constructive feedback on your writing is giving you a gift. Like all gifts:

* You can keep it and use it.
* You can ignore it, by shoving it in a closet.

I suggest that it would be bad manners to throw it back in the reviewer’s face, screaming, “Who asked YOU???” . . . especially since it was you seeking the feedback in the first place.

If you don’t want HONEST feedback, follow Cindy’s advice and keep your work private or only share it with those you know will never tell you that your baby is “ugly” . . . even if it is.

Once you make your work public, you need to train yourself to absorb comments you find helpful, while allowing other comments to drift away . . . without allowing them to rock your boat in the process.

And that’s what this blog is all about really . . . not just writing, but life. Empowering ourselves to avoid getting bounced around like ping-pong balls whenever someone says something kind (or something hurtful) to us.

To go with the flow and be who we want to be . . . without worrying about what others want us to be, say, or do.

6. clarbojahn - June 25, 2011

Feedback in writing is just like using good communication skills says Joni Cole the author of “Toxic Feedback”. the book is a must read for all writers and has a whole section on how to receive feedback.

nrhatch - June 25, 2011

I’m sure that many writers would benefit from reading her book and your review:

http://clarbojahn.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/attention-writers-%e2%80%93-book-review-on-%e2%80%9ctoxic-feedback%e2%80%9d/


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