Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why Pats On The Back Can Be Counterproductive

I'm weird. Let me give you an example of my weirdness (this didn't really happen, so no worries):

A friend of mine runs on a wet section of the floor. He slips and falls. I watch him slip and fall.

I don't run over to help him up. I don't gasp. I don't blink.

Standing a good five feet away from him, I ask, "are you okay?"

If he says yes, I stay where I am and watch him get up. If he says no, I stay where I am and ask, "you think I can help?"

I he says yes, I help him up. If he says no, I stay where I am and watch him get up.

Moral of the story: I never rush to anyone's side

I never take their ability to get up by themselves for granted. Doesn't matter if they hit the floor literally or figuratively. I never assume someone needs my help. 

Or my encouragement. 

This is what today's post is all about--encouraging those who don't really need it. Or even deserve being encouraged too much. Falls happen for a reason, folks. They're supposed to hurt. But the person who falls has to feel that pain. If he (or she) doesn't, what was the fall good for?

Now I don't mean you shouldn't help people. *chuckles* Of course you should, good citizens of the world! I'm talking about helping people feel better when they're supposed to be learning why the sucky things are happening. About showering them with warm and fuzzy when they should be wrapped up in shivers. Nothing gets on my nerves more than seeing people being nice just for the sake of being nice. 

"But THAT'S who I am," says Enabler. "I'm a nice person. Therefore, I will be nice to everybody. Because that's who I am. Nice. Oh, and did I mention that I'm a nice person???"

So? Go adopt a puppy or something. Stop telling my guy friend the fall was an accident and the world is cold and evil for making him fall.

Reasons, people. There are always reasons.

Anyway, pats on the back, over and over and over again, might make my guy friend believe he did nothing wrong in running on a wet floor. It's the universe's fault. Gravity, you know. It's a tough cookie.

For writers, the same problem arises. If I suck at life, but you don't tell me and let me query my sucktastic manuscript because you don't want to hurt my feelings or (God forbid!) make me disagree with your feedback, you're not helping me at all. (again, this hasn't happened to me, mostly because my CPs are pretty awesome). 

I start querying my sucktastic manuscript and get rejected. All the time. 

But you tell me it's not my fault. I'm amazing! Agents are just not getting me or my book, you know?

So I query again. Same. Thing. Happens.

I am confused. 

Second moral of the story: tell it like it is. Please. I'm on my knees right now. Begging you. 

We all have lessons to learn. And we all learn them in different ways.

Nobody should be forced to smile when they want to cry. 

Nobody should be forced to be confused about their passion because people around them can't own up to the truth.

*end of rant*


  1. I agree with you. I was observing the same thing yesterday, that people are nice just for the sake of being nice--being a bit blunt myself, I believe that telling the person the truth (in a reasonable manner, not in a mean way at all) is the better idea.

  2. Ha - this was a great post. And SO true. I think a good writer can own up to critique and the truth in it, grow from it and revise. And I try and give as honest crit as I can because if not, aren't we all just wasting our time? But, when someone falls, I laugh. I admit it!:)

  3. Very true! As a mom, I'm literally the let-them-fall-down-and-get-back-up kind of guardian. It works wonders for their self esteem and my kids get to the "I can do it all by myself" phase sooner than some people's kids. It's not because of me. It's because of them, and my staying out of their way.

    In writing, I worry about this sometimes, though. For one thing, writing IS subjective. How do I know something isn't good? Maybe I just have a prejudice against [insert writing style or gimmick here] *shrugs* As a beta reader, I try to catch things that are technically incorrect or which feel like plot holes or character inconsistencies. If I don't see any glaring errors, I tend to gush. A lot. You know this. But, in that case, you deserve it!

  4. I agree!! Supportive is one thing, to enable is another - don't do it!

    The Arrival, on Amazon NOW!

  5. There are ways to encourage people that are meaningful and ways that are empty. Telling someone you believe they have it in them to work harder, to perservere, to take tough criticism and use it well, and encouraging them to do so-- that's good encouragement. Telling someone it's just a matter of time until they get an agent, for example, might be empty encouragement. Because sometimes it's not a matter of time at all. It's a matter of constantly working to be better.

    Any encouragement that leads someone to try harder--with the realistic odds in mind--can be useful. I think the journey to publication (and in life) is hard enough that we ALL need good encouragement.

  6. Gosh - you'll hate me! I so just keep quiet or wimp out and leave it to better more coherent and more experienced people to take up the baton when it comes to proper critiquing of someone else's work. I just don't feel qualified enough to say what works and what doesn't! I write as I always have and some of my stories get accepted, some don't. I don't know why that is so I can't really be a good proper critiquer if I can't even solve my own writing problems. That's why I wimp out!! Oh dear!

    Take care

  7. Ooh, this is a clever post! I think I do enable sometimes--at least face-to-face. I think I'm a far stronger beta reader because I can be honest in my notes. I think that makes me a coward. I guess I feel that since we get rejected enough, it's okay to offer a smile every now and then, right? :)

  8. Golden Eagle--That's the key, I think. To be honest in a reasonable way. People's feelings are a tricky thing :D

    Jennifer--Yay! I don't laugh as hard as I used to, but yeah, I giggle a bit. We are SUCH bad people!

    Katrina--Thanks! *blushes* But in terms of critiquing another's manuscript, I don't think there's room for prejudice. It's not about what someone likes, but about what that someone thinks works best for the story, you know? No need to hold back when you're trying to help somebody improve :D

    Nicole--Word. Enablers, begone! ;)

    Sarah--Wiser words have never been spoken. Encouragement for improvement is the standard. Empty encouragement is a HUGE no-no.

    Kitty--I would never hate you!! It's okay. Critiquing is a tough job, but I'm sure we'll all get better in time. *fingers crossed*

    Pam--Thank you! I SO know what you mean. If the person's right there staring at me, I tend to not say everything. But again, this is b-a-d!! We should go to face-to-face feedback rehab, huh? ;)

  9. Absolutely correct! There is a lot of ENABLING that goes on here in the blogosphere. :)