Beware Of Positive Feedback

July 24, 2017 | By | 2 Replies More

A few months ago I sent a short story to an established literary magazine. Months past and they didn’t respond, so I sent an email. They contacted me later that evening to confirm they loved the story, very much wanted to publish it and would have an editor contact me. I never heard from them again.

I often say I’d prefer to be anything other than a writer, perhaps a plumber, an astronaut or even a neurologist – better to delve into the pink folds of the brain yourself than somehow try to figure out the fickle objectives of the publishing industry. When faced with this sort of rejection or the ‘beam me up Scottie’ type of behaviour many writers will be all too familiar with, I sometimes, well quite often in fact, tell social media about it and I wonder, right now, whether you do, too?

Social media is generally always at home/in the office/ in a cafe as you wrestle sentences on your laptop, so if you want to whine about a rejection email, share a new short story, talk about your novel, tell Facebook you think your writing is terrible and you might give it up forever – with a dramatic ‘not seen on social media for days’ immediately afterwards – somebody will always listen and often respond in a considered way. The question I find myself asking lately, though, with frequent regularity, is does it help?

I might sound rude, a little, but I used to think when people liked one for my stories and took the time to tell me – via vowels and consonants rather than a heart on twitter or a feeble like on Facebook that they were just being kind. I thought, foolishly, that I was immune to praise but had a pathological reaction to criticism. I think many aspects of life are like this, believing ourselves to be immune  to something then finding ourselves ensnared within that very thing.

Of course, positive feedback is vital to any writer and we all want our stories to make a difference. Books and stories make their way into peoples lives offering a litany of small comforts: providing a voice when people feel alone, hope when people feel despondent, laughter when people feel sad. They sit with people who are unwell, help during a messy divorce, offer distraction during grief, entertain when  life feels depressingly dreary. We dearly want our readers to respond favourably but we have to be careful not to chase the feedback, not to become so hooked upon the compliments to the detriment of our work.

There is a Buddhist saying ‘just as a solid rock is not shaken by the storm, even so the wise are not affected by praise and blame’. Like most quotes it can be interpreted in many ways but it’s always made me think about my life as a writer and how I need not be swayed by praise or criticism (blame) of my work.

There is an argument to be had that if we are neither moved to elation over a great review or moved to melancholy over a bad one (or a bad comment under a post on Facebook or flippant offhand remark on twitter) we may have a more measured approach to the positive/negative domain that social media has become and be less ecstatic/demoralised by the good or not so good.

As good a theory as this is, it can still be difficult to avoid being so reactive on social media and /or wanting the feedback. What makes it more precarious is sometimes different stories achieve different receptions. Only last week you could have shared something people unanimously hailed as exceptional and could have felt on top of the world, then still cloud heavy, this week you could share a different story and find a more diverse reaction.

When chatting to a friend a while back, he talked about how even hearing a slight depreciation in tone over a piece of work could send one into a tailspin. Perhaps an outright dislike is more easy to navigate whereas the more subtle deflations in response feel ambiguous and uncertain making one second guess themselves in an endless loop. It’s in many ways one of the less attractive components of a feedback loop – the moment when the communication changes and we are left to repair our literary wounds.

When I question whether social media is helpful, whether I am addicted to the positive and therefore more greatly affected by the negative, I always find I am still inclined towards its use – it’s great for building one’s tribe, sharing work, interacting with people all across the globe but I also feel it involves an awareness to how I am reacting to the words dotted upon the screen and sometimes a little pragmatic manoeuvring on my part to not allow an upward or downward shift in mood.

After all, self-doubt I feel is somewhat of a perquisite for a writer – without it do we really push as hard as necessary, or do we allow ego to govern us instead? and it feels as though social media is a huge mirror – much like the looking glass theory but maybe the results are more problematic than we once imagined and maybe we always have to remember exactly why we write and who we indeed write for.

Hetti Ross is a fiction writer living in Scotland. Her writing credits include Twisted Sister, Sick Lit Magazine and Feminine Collective. She is currently writing a paranormal novel based on a Scottish folk tale. She lives with her husband, old dog Lolpop and their puppy, Logan Montgomery Ross in the Scottish countryside.  You can follow her on Twitter at@HettiRoss

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  1. Your article really made me think. And made me feel. I kept reading and this Yeats quote kept popping in my head (I have spread my dreams under your feet;Tread softly because you tread on my dreams). In a way it goes both ways, whether praise or critique, be honest yet considerate. As not to create false impressions.
    N.B. This is not a positive feedback 🙂

  2. Adrienne Ross Scanlan says:

    Writing in from the department of unsolicited advice…

    I’d strongly suggest you contact the magazine and say you haven’t heard back about your story being published. Be sure to put the message at the top of the entire email chain so they have the “backstory.” It may be that they’ve put your story at the end of a long queue and are planning to get back to you…sometime closer to publication date. It’s also possible that they’re waiting to hear a confirmation back from you that yes, the story is still available and you’re eager to work with them. And yes, it’s possible they’re incompetent or irresponsible people who have forgotten all about you and your story. Either way, re-contact them. Be polite and professional, but for your sake and for other writers don’t let them think this is acceptable behavior.

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