Sunday, February 15, 2015

Michelle Styles:Learning to deal with feedback

One of the things about being a published author is that you get feedback (not all of it good) from editors, family and strangers, particularly in this day and age.

The pain of my first form rejection letter remains still seared on my brain. But  the good part was that it made me determined. Others I know gave up when faced with the same words.  I also can easily recall the joy when I had my first Reader letter.

 Letters from Readers are a gift because they show your writing can connect with people. I didn't realise how welcome and wonderful they were until I became a published author. But then there can be the trolls, the Mean Girls and the petty-minded. I can remember a review once, knocking for me for the cover and the title -- two things I had no control over. I think when I got that review, I stopped taking them so seriously.

You learn to cope with the negative or you end up curled up in a little ball and never submit again. A case in point, I suppose is Harper Lee whose brush with fame from To Kill A Mockingbird led to her becoming a recluse. And her second book (which was written in the 1950s!) being published later this year. Lee is currently nearly blind and deaf and living in a care home. I suspect it will make it easier for her to cope this time around.

Over the years, I came to realise that there were people who got my voice and my writing and  people who for whom it didn't work. I write for the readers who love my work. Other people write for  the  readers who don't connect with it. The world is an awfully big place and there are many writers and published books in it. 

As a reader, it can be disappointing when an author whom I have previously enjoyed  goes in a different direction. Or maybe I am the one who goes in another direction. It happens. And I know that some of my readers have enjoy certain of my books more than others. It doesn't mean I should not have written the books they enjoyed less. It just means there was a slight parting of the ways and different pathways taken.

Recently I read an article that Gwynneth Paltrow published on her weekly newsletter goop. It was an interview with Tara Mohr whose book Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message was recently published. It seeks to deal with why women criticise each other and how  we as women can deal with some of that. Women take criticism more to heart than men. Taken to its extreme, fear of criticism to can lead to things like footbinding in pre-Communist China. In this month's Smithsonian magazine is a very interesting article on why footbinding persisted for so long in China.Answer -- peer pressure.  

Real shoes from a footbound  grown woman --Smithsonaina magazine.
In the Mohr interview on goop, she said something that resonated with me. Feedback can never tell you anything about you the recipient, instead it tells you about the person giving the feedback.

Feedback can tell you what they connect with and what they don’t. It will not give you the magic keys to say – this is what everyone connects with and this is why. For example, if someone doesn't like blue dresses and tell you that they don't like your dress which happens to blue. It doesn't mean the dress is wrong. It simply means they don't like that colour.
It goes back to the maxim – beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

 Whether or not something resonates with you says more about you than it says about the person who created the object.

This does not mean that feedback is unimportant but rather that it doesn’t take away from the achievement of having created something you are proud of. Of course it is great when you get positive feedback. It is wonderful to create things that resonate and to find your audience. But the feedback doesn't say that everyone will like it, just that one person did did. And you know what? Sometimes on a day when I am struggling to write, when the Crows of Doubt loom that is enough.

It means what I say reflects about something reflects on me and my attitudes, rather than the actual piece or person.

For someone who does put her work out in public, it makes it easier for me to cope. It is about separating the act of creation from the finished product. I can't control how other people feel about something but I can control my reactions to that. It took me a long time to learn (and some days I need to learn the lesson all over again). But I think Mohr's mantra about feedback telling you more about the giver than recipient is worth knowing.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historicals. Her latest from Harlequin Historical was published this month: Taming His Viking Woman. You can read more about Michelle and her books on 

1 comment:

dstoutholcomb said...

great attitude!