Are you receiving hurtful ‘advice’ about your writing?

Reading time: About 2 minutes

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a TED talk with tips for handling hurtful advice about your writing…

Writers can be exposed to hurtful or damaging advice about their writing in a number of different ways:

  • Their partners or family members might be reluctant to give them the time they need to write.
  • Members of their critique group or beta readers might be unduly harsh about their work.
  • An editor might say something inexplicably nasty instead of just “no thanks, this isn’t for me.”

In a recent TED Talk, psychotherapist Terri Cole gives five scripts for fending off these unpleasant or unnecessary conversations.

Before I summarize her suggestions, however, I want to add that writers are particularly vulnerable to negative comments. Instead of assuming that the other speaker is correct and that you likely are a terrible writer, remember that many ultimately successful writers endured many rejections before achieving success. This list includes: Agatha Christie, William Golding, Isaac Asimov, John le Carre, Joseph Heller, Ursula K Le Guin and J.K. Rowling. You can see even more famous names here.

Now, here are Cole’s five “scripts” for handling challenging conversations:

1-When someone asks you something you’re not sure about

● “I need a minute to regroup. Can we pick this up in a half hour?”
● “Can we chat about this later today, after I’ve had more time to think about it?” Once you’ve reflected, you can serve up a clear, charge-free “no”, depending on the context.
●“I’m going to say no for now, but I’d love to catch up another time.”
●“I can’t, unfortunately. But once I finish up my current deadline, I’ll circle back to see if there’s a way I can support you.”

2-To deflect nosey questions

● To someone who asks how much money you make: “Trust me, not even close to what I’m worth.”
● To someone who asks about your love life: “I’d rather not discuss it right now. When I have news to share, I’ll let you know.”
● To a colleague who asks what you plan to do with your day off: “That’s why they call it a personal day!”

3-When given unsolicited advice

● “I have a situation I want to share with you. Can you just listen with compassion, please?”
● “I want to share what is going on for me and I ask that you simply listen without offering advice or criticism. I’d really appreciate that.”

● “At the moment, I’m not looking for feedback. I would love it if you could just lend a compassionate ear.”

4-When someone makes unsolicited judgmental or critical comments

● “I don’t recall asking you.”
● “What you call ‘honesty’, I call you ‘giving me your unsolicited opinion and criticism’. Please don’t.”

5-When the other person has crossed a line

● “I thought you should know . . .”
● “The other day, I felt uncomfortable when you said. . .”
● “I need to share my experience of what went down, because I’d like you to understand how I feel and where I am coming from . . .”
● “I want you to be aware of my feelings about what happened . . .”

Of course the situation becomes much trickier for writers when they have actually requested feedback (and end up feeling the response is unfair or unduly negative). In a situation like that I’d simply say, “Thanks for your feedback. I’ll consider your comments.”

And then I’d forget about them.

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