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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