Monday, May 29, 2017

When the Snake Slithers In

The other day, literary agent Janet Reid wrote a fantastic post advising someone who'd received destructive feedback on their work AND on themselves as a writer. Even though Ms. Reid's words are geared toward the writing life, I think they work on a personal level as well.

Ms. Reid, referring to the beta reader, says, "She's quite clearly someone who takes great satisfaction in making people feel small . . . It's the behavior of a third grade bully. Again, not the conduct of a self-actualized adult . . . ."

Have you ever dealt with someone like that? I have, and I admit, I was gobsmacked (love that word!) by the incident. But as time went on, I became more upset with myself than the person because I continued to let the words hurt me. They would slither into my brain, a snake sinking its venomous fangs into my spirit, poisoning all that was creative and good and wacky in my mind. I struggled with how to stop it from happening, but I didn't have the antidote.

Until now. 

"There is no way her words won't continue to cut at you. Words do that. It will take a while to stop thinking about what she said. One way to do that (and you do need to stop that) is give yourself a mantra to say every time you think of her, and a specific thing to divert your mind to instead. (I use the rosary for this; when I think of something that is unsettling me I recite one Hail Mary and then turn my mind to something else. It takes practice but it works.)"

I probably won't use the Hail Mary (much to my maternal grandmother's chagrin) so I'm open to suggestions. I've got lots of affirming and positive quotes I can fish through but I'm turning to you all first. What's your antidote for that darn snake, your go-to mantra, your action plan? How do you keep the bullies from winning?

32 comments:

  1. Hi Madeline,
    This has happened to me too! To begin with, I always try to use a dose of child-like humour to battle away those snakey ear-worms. I imagine the underhanded perpetrator farting (very loudly) in public (it's a quick fix that always makes me feel better). Then I pop their words into perspective, and make it my mission to treat everyone that crosses my path with love and respect. Obviously, I do all of this after I've had a big snotty cry.

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    1. Love this, Rita! A solution with a mix of humor and kindness - for others as well as for ourselves. :)

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  2. That's a hard one. Most of the time, I can shrug it off. I'm naturally confident and I recognize toxic people when I see them. But if they should catch me on a day when I'm feeling low, it can really sting.

    When that happens I walk away and be with people I enjoy. They almost always lift my spirits. If that's not possible, I watch a funny movie, visit a zoo or museum, or take a drive to somewhere new.

    The most important thing though is to cross that person off your list. Life is too short to hang with negative people.

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    1. I so wish I was naturally confident! And I like your suggestions, Maria. :)

      As for crossing the person off my list, it's hard to do for a few reasons, one of which is that I'm a big believer in giving people second or third chances, especially if there's an apology, etc. Maybe that's all to my detriment, and I'm just setting myself up to be hurt again and again. Sigh.

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  3. Oh yes. Years ago I had a beta reader attack my writing, my story, and my main character. She said some nasty things that were uncalled for. It hurt me so bad.

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    1. That's terrible! What happened to constructive criticism?!

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  4. I've experienced something along those lines when I entered PitchWars, but I didn't even read the whole email because the first lines were so crushing. It took a really long time for me to turn back to my novel and actually want to work on it again. I'm hoping now I'll be more prepared for harsh criticism since I've experienced it before.

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    1. Ugh! Your skin is definitely thicker now, that's for sure.

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  5. Maybe it sounds bad, but I use stuff like that to motivate me to succeed. I get an "I'll show them!" attitude. Not always, of course, but as much as I can. No better revenge than living well.

    Like the reviewer who said my book "wasn't best seller material" when it actually was, at that time, a best seller. Sometimes I wish we were allowed to respond to reviews!

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    1. I've done that kind of thing before - using it to motivate me to succeed. It doesn't seem to work so well for me, though, because the people don't end up seeming to care one way or another anyway. Hmm, unless they're actually seething inside? :)

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    2. The point is not that the people care--they might not even know. The point is that you get to succeed and achieve your goals. The people who were cruel to you can suck it, I say!

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    3. I wish I had more of your kick-ass attitude! :)

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  6. Madeline, I am so sorry you had to go through this. Unfortunately, I've gone through this more than once. In all those instances, I actually thought those people knew better than me, but being in therapy has taught me they didn't. I know what's good for me and where I want my writing to go. So, I no longer uses critique partners. I hire an editor who is a professional, and who's advice is based on the story I've written. No more relying on other writers who can at times project their own crap on you, even unknowingly. In life, damn those words cut deep. But I sulk for a while, and then get back up and continue on, limping along if I have to. Because the mean people, they want you to quit. They want you to fall behind so they can feel good. Don't let them drag you down to the gutter with them. You rise above that, darling.

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    1. I think I have more confidence in my writing than I do in myself, in me in "real" life, if that makes sense. This particular incident was not writing-related and it hit harder for a number of reasons.

      I love what you said about some people wanting you to fall behind so they can feel good. It's so true! I will totally rise above all that, and so will you. We all will. :)

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  7. I find it helpful to go ahead and wallow in the misery for a good five minutes. Once I'm down there, wallowing away, I see how silly and destructive it is to give another person so much power over my feelings and actions and I'm able to move on a little faster.

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    1. I love this part of your comment, Patricia - "I see how silly and destructive it is to give another person so much power over my feelings and actions..." And I am so going to remember this! :)

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  8. When I was a math professor, I had a student, who I thought liked me as a teacher, give me a scathing review at the end of the year. It was my first year as a professor. In this case, some of her complaints were valid. She was in a high level class that I'd never taught before, so I kept things pretty basic for the student's sake and my own. She was upset that I didn't spend more time on real world applications. But for a starter class, the applications would have been too complicated and I literally had no time to hunt them down. Plus, I was struggling to keep up with the four classes I was teaching. To help me get over the shock, I'd remember the good reviews I got as a teacher and remember what my goal was: to explain math in a way that kids could understand and then do themselves.

    Having a bad interaction with someone doesn't happen very often, and it can stick to you like glue. Time will help and hanging out with kinder people will as well. Let yourself process it and, hopefully, it will soon pass. It's also a good thing to remember when dealing with others to make sure your words don't cut.

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    1. I really like your reminder of making sure my own words don't cut. I do try to be considerate and respectful even when I don't agree with someone. It really bothers me when some people feel they can just say what they want, how they want, that the feelings of others don't matter in the slightest.

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  9. I do turn to prayer (although not Hail Mary) in those moments, but I also turn to the "good" comments from readers and CPs, and even editors who have rejected my work but done so with kindness. It's good to have a "good comment" page handy along with my "accomplished" page nearby. Both of those really help. Today I received two rejection e-mails, but they were both written with such encouraging words that I wanted to thank the editors. Those are the comments I try to keep on repeat - or keep close to fight the snakes.

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    1. An excellent reminder, Tyrean, to focus on all the positive and on all the good in our lives. :)

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  10. The older I get, the harder I work at having thicker skin. If someone says something horrid about my writing, I withdraw and act like a big baby for a few minutes, but then I remind myself that opinions are subjective. For heaven's sake, some people hate seafood! (How ridiculous, right?) And if it's okeydoke for people to have conflicting tastes when it comes to food, it's just as understandable and reasonable for people to have differing tastes and opinions when it comes to the written word, too. If one person hates my work, that's the opinion of that one person, and NOT a definitive reflection on the value of my work.

    More personal and mean-spirited criticism is harder to take. Then I may withdraw for a wee bit longer before sticking my chin out again and giving the relationship another go. If someone keeps kicking me in the chops, sobeit. I guess I'd give up on the relationship eventually if things never improved, but I've never gotten to that point yet, and hope I never do.

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    1. That's one of the things I struggle with - how many times do I keep reaching out and touching that hot stove, only to be burned again and again? When will I learn my lesson? Sigh.

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    2. I know what you mean. Some people, most notably my father, burned me time and time again, but I kept going back for more. Part of me always hoped things would improve, but in reality, I simply lowered my expectations. If you expect someone to hurt you, it isn't nearly as painful when they do.

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    3. I'm sorry it was like that for you. :(

      Interesting point about expectations and preparation. It's kind of like putting on an oven mitt before touching that hot stove....

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  11. When you put yourself out there and then get slammed in return, it can be so devastating. I've never really found a good way of letting go of that kind of experience and ignoring it. Although, I do like the earlier suggestion of taking it as a challenge and proving them wrong.

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    1. Sometimes I think I've let it go, only to find it worming its way back into my thoughts, my heart, and it hurts all over again. If I can't find a way to get rid of it then I need a way to manage it better, to chase it away back into its hole faster.

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  12. This very thing just happened to me. “Your character isn’t this and your setting isn’t that. I just couldn’t believe she could ever grow up to blah blah blah.” Well ok, then. That was helpful [not]. I also had someone tell me once that my short story was very well written. When I thanked her, and said, “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she replied, “I didn’t say I enjoyed it, I said it was well written.” Uh, again, color me speechless. So, my go-to mental phrase is “this person clearly isn’t my intended audience.” I may or may not add a “screw him/her” to it. :-)

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    1. Yikes! Especially that last bit. What are people thinking? Why would someone say that? Why not say something like, "This isn't really the genre I read so the story wasn't my up of tea but I could tell it was very well written."

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  13. I tend to rant to my hubby when stuff like this happens. It's nice to vent and get it out of me, so I can move on.

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    1. What would we do without our wonderful husbands?! :)

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  14. I remember doing one of the blog contests, and one of the judges was just a total jerk, not even constructive. I don't know why people feel they can do that, but they must not remember what it felt like when someone else did it to them, because there's always one.

    Nowadays, I rant about it for a minute or so and then move on.

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    1. You really would think people would be more sensitive to that kind of thing if they've experienced it themselves. Or maybe they think that's the way to do it?!

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