Friday Speak Out!: Sometimes It's a Velcro Day, and Sometimes It's More Teflon

Friday, March 28, 2014
by Sioux Roslawski

On the show CBS News Sunday Morning recently, they did a piece on how criticism impacts us. Movie reviewer Leonard Maltin was interviewed. The book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence was discussed. An actor claimed that they could recite the negative reviews word for word...the positive ones—not so much.

A term that was new to me--”negativity bias”--came up. According to some experts, the brain is like teflon when it comes to positive things. They don't stick with us. But when it comes to the bad things, the brain is like velcro.

And it's been this way since the caveman days. It makes sense, I guess. According to the news feature, we remember the bad things because bad can kill us. It's a matter of survival. If cavemen and dinosaurs were around at the same time, the image of one of their family members being swallowed, appetizer-style like a spinach ball by a Tyrannosaurus rex, would probably stay with them forever. The memory of themselves eating a chunk of greasy triceratops...most likely forgettable.

As writers, the positive comments about our work make us feel momentarily proud. We bask in the glow for a second but if we're serious about our craft, we cast the compliments aside as we insist, “But how could I improve it? What parts do I still need to work on?” People gushing over the lines we've crafted doesn't move us forward as writers.

(At this point, if you'd like to shower me with glowing praise, I'll gladly accept it, but then let's move on.)

Certainly, not all negative remarks help us. When people comment, “Sioux, what is that shade called that you've chosen for your hair? Metallic Magenta? Lucille Ball Gone Awry? Tangerine Terror?” I only smile. Left to their natural state, my tresses are the color of rat fur. I have a limited budget. My dye jobs are DIY. You do the math.

And sometimes, even the negative comments about our writing shouldn't stick to us. If one person (perhaps a family member?) is completely clueless about the point of your essay or the plot of your story—and everyone else (especially writers/editors you respect) thinks your piece is spot-on—just accept the criticism with a comment like, “Thanks. I'll consider that,” and forget about it.

But when plot holes are pointed out...when characters' voices are not distinct...when our story is dragging, and more than one of our respected writing friends is making the claim—that is the sort of thing that should stick to us like velcro.

If we're going to survive as a writer, we have to constantly be trying to improve our work—because bad writing can kill us as authors. (And now, please excuse me. I've got to re-dip my hair. The gray has sprung up like weeds.)

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Sioux Roslawski is a third grade teacher and a freelance writer. She's been published in twenty or so national anthologies and magazines, including ten Chicken Soup for the Soul books. You can find more of her work at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

Own your hair color, Sioux! It could be part of your brand.

Yes, the advice I always give writers and myself is if one writer/person says it's a problem, then that might just be an opinion. If more than one think it or agree, then RE-EVALUATE. That's worked for me in the past, and I'm sticking to it like velcro.

Renee Roberson said...

Yay for all of us survivors!

Here is my compliment to you, Sioux: I am so impressed that your work graces the pages of TEN Chicken Soup books! I always say I'm going to submit an essay to the latest anthology and then never get around to it. I'm such a slacker sometimes. Your determination, grace and humor are admirable, as is your gorgeous hair color:)

I too have learned to grow a thicker skin over the years. I do tend to take negative criticism much more personally, but over time I've come to learn that it really is part of the gig. When an agent says to me, "This isn't really a project I feel passionate about," I don't take it personally anymore. Instead, I look for whatever piece of constructive advice that typically follows a statement like that. I know that writing is subjective and I just haven't found the right fit yet.

Unknown said...

It is such a balance, isn't it? We love the glow of praise but let the negative critiques stick in us.

For me, it depends so much on what type of writing is being critiqued. My blogs, articles-- eh-- sometimes that's just a matter of subject preference, and I play around with that a lot. But when I'm tackling something bigger and out of my comfort zone, I'm very protective-- probably because it is vulnerable for me.

GREAT POST (enjoy that) and I like your hair color!

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--I am the same way. One person...I think about it momentarily, but if several people are saying the same thing, it has to be me that needs to shift and not them.

Renee--For sure--when an agent/publisher says "no," to a manuscript or article or story, it sometimes has nothing to do with the (lack of) quality and more of "This doesn't fit our needs right now." (At least that's what I tell myself each time I get shot down.)

Julie--I too am extremely protective about my outside-the-box projects. But if we do enough big pieces or work enough out of our comfort zone, it will become our "normal" and we won't have to guard them so closely, right?

(At least that's what I am hoping...)

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