Sunday, July 04, 2010

Are You A Carrot or a Stick ?

I overheard someone talking about housebreaking a puppy the other day. This person had it on good authority (whoever that is) that rubbing a puppy's nose in it when the puppy "had an accident" was the best way to convince the puppy NOT to do that again. He'd been using the method for six weeks with less than stellar results. And at the point of the conversation this "expert" was contemplating dumping the "stupid" puppy off at the local animal shelter. The puppy has my sympathy. I can just imagine the conversation between this unfortunate cutie and his cell mate in animal jail. "I miss the little ones. They cried when I left. But that big one was really weird. He had this pee fetish like you wouldn't believe!" Being me, I intervened and gave the guy some tips on how to convince his puppy that doing his business outside was a great thing to do. I hope he tried it even if he is a weird guy with a pee fetish I think he genuinely liked the dog.

Writers spend a lot of time getting feedback on what they've done. Sometimes we get praise and sometimes we get our noses rubbed in it. Not fun no matter what your species. And while we expect that sort of treatment from editors and agents, when we get it from our fellow writers it can be a bit disconcerting. Or can it?

Some people respond really well to "tough love." The best thing for them can be some drill sergeant yelling at them about how much time they spend on Facebook and how this thing or that thing is not helping their writing. They do much better when someone is shaming them or telling them they aren't trying hard enough to make time for writing. These people work best under a constant harangue of negative reinforcement. I admire people like that. I wish I could be one. I'm not. For me, all of that sniping makes me feel bad about myself. I begin to feel useless. Instead of trying to change what is being said I begin to believe it. And I get discouraged.

Some people, like me, do much better with a cheer leading type encouragement. You can do it. I believe in you. You'll do better tomorrow. Sounds great, right? I try very hard to be that way with other writers. I want people to do well and I want them to know I believe in them. Positive reinforcement. Praise for small victories. Little validations here and there. That works for me. BUT, there are those who think all that does is give a person permission to blow off a bad day or two or twenty with the excuse that they will do better tomorrow. Or the day after that. Or ... You get the picture.

So, what kind of person are you? What makes you plop your butt in that chair and write. Do you write better if you are glowing from someone's praise of your work or do you do better when you get "pissed off" because someone has called you out on your time wasting, your lack of focus, your unproductive behavior? (I say "pissed off" in spite of it being unladylike because frankly, "upset" is what little old ladies get when their cake falls. I get "pissed off!")

Which one works for you? And which one do you use when you feel like a fellow writer needs some encouragement? And where do contests fall in that miasma. Do you enter contests in the hope of positive reinforcement? Do you do it because you are masochistic and want to hear someone say bad things about your writing?

Are you a carrot or a stick? And please don't rub your puppy's nose in his pee. He doesn't know why you are doing it and he is telling other dogs (and possibly cats if he is bilingual) that you are some kind of nut with serious urinary issues. And he's right!


Carla Swafford said...

Funny thing. I had to think about this one. But I decided I'm a carrot sort of girl. If you're ugly to me, I'll ignore you or do the opposite of what you want. But if you say something nice, I'll work twice as hard not to disappoint you next time.

Hey, I think my boss figured that out recently and, boy, oh, boy, I'm having a hard time saying no to new projects.

Jeanie said...

Hmm, I think positive works better for most folks. I try to keep a positive attitude and outlook, although it is darn hard not to get blue and depressed when you get a rejection. I also try to be positive in my interactions with others.

But, really, I don't need anyone to harangue me to write. Housework, yeah, but not writing. I do a pretty good job of haranguing myself! I have this internal nag that goes with me everywhere, and she keeps my butt in the chair.

I do reward myself, too. So, I guess I'm the carrot and the stick!

Christine said...

I am an encourager to others, but if someone tells me it is okay to blow off my writing for something else, I do the opposite and write. I'm on vacation right now and it is so hard because I really just want to finish my MS revision and get my pitch ready for Nationals. AACK. But then I do tend to do well with my derriere in a bit of fire LOL.

Gack, I am a hybrid in all things!

Cari Hislop said...

I can't imagine anyone being their creative best while dodging negative words, but I think it depends on the tone and intent of delivery. People who want to shoot my artist in the heart (because they're blocked writers, jealous, mental or having a bad day) under the guise of helpful criticism tend to make me feel creeped-out as well as enraged, but good advice I don't want to hear sends me up onto my soap box where I'll argue why I'm right and they're wrong.

A few years ago I received some unsolicited feedback that really irritated me. I was on that soap box for weeks, but after I calmed down and opened my mind I could see the person was right so I took their advice (belatedly) and it has improved my writing.

On the other side of the coin, some time ago I was having some sort of mental breakdown and read something and decided (in my totally irrational state) that this writer needed some feedback. Thankfully, I had the sense in the end to NOT send the letter. Once I returned to a more rational state I realized that all the things I'd criticized this other writer for were things I did too. That's improved my writing as well.

I've since decided that unless someone asks me for feedback on their writing (which invites the delivery of possible negatives) I will share the positive or nothing.

JoAnn said...

Carrots, definitely, for me. It doesn't take much of a stick to derail me.

M.V.Freeman said...

Intriguing post, Louisa.

I have to say, that a bit of both is what works for me.

Now, as for the stick, its not the nasty stuff that motivates me (I may get angry and do it to spite you), but the "Hey, I see you muddling about on facebook, why aren't you writing?" is perfect.

And Carrots...Honest carrots, not ones that are meant to placate. I like encouragement and challenges. For example,I'm thinking about doing a challenge, and its something like write five pages by midnight saturday...go...and I will.

As for contests...I use them to see if I am on track, I'm looking to see if the story captures the imagination...or not. Everything else I can work on.

M.V.Freeman said...

Speaking of Louisa,
I just posted a challange/contest that is more of a carrot than a stick...! ;-)