Question of the Month: Staying Positive

by Susan Henderson on November 1, 2010

Before I get to my question, just a reminder to please VOTE tomorrow (Tuesday, November 2)!

My question this month concerns your reaction to negative reviews, or negative people, for that matter.

How do you keep them from crushing your confidence or your productivity? How do you keep their hatefulness from making you hateful, too?


October was an exciting month. UP FROM THE BLUE is now in Target and was featured in The New York Times and NPR. I participated on a panel for National Reading Group Month, my essay was run on the back page of the San Francisco Book Review, and I was interviewed on BookClubGirl On-Air.

But with more visibility comes more negativity, and I’ll be writing about this over at The Nervous Breakdown right after my hiatus (more on that in a minute). If I borrow your ideas, I will certainly credit you and provide a link to your own web page… so speak up!

In the meantime, you can catch my TNB interview with Shawn Anderson, one of the most positive people I know. He inspires me, and I hope you’ll check him out.

Oh, one last thing: I’m taking the entire month of November to work full-time on my next book. I won’t be reading anything that’s not research-related, and I am only allowing myself a half hour online each morning–that includes email. Okay, I’m hunkering down… see you in December!

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

peggy coburn November 1, 2010 at 3:12 pm

It takes mindfulness, just like any other healthy habit. I evoke images of good and wise people whom I love and/or admire. The accompanying good vibes/memories of how I feel about/around these people helps me let go of the hate and anger.


Susan Henderson November 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

Peggy, that’s so smart… the power of the mind!


Aurelio O'Brien November 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm

We are definitely in a cultural period of deliberate nastiness. It has become acceptable and even expected to publicly trash others–the more melodramatically the better. Being on the receiving end requires growing a thick skin and resilient mind.

Criticism helps us grow as artists, writers, musicians, creative people, yes, but it needs the word “constructive” in front of it. I try to process what each critic says to glean any useful kernel of truth from it. If there is none, I discard it and try not to let it persuade me to use it to trash myself. Since most creative people are their own worst critics, it is an all too easy to be persuaded in this cycle by even the lamest of critiques.

I also remind myself that criticism is easy and creating something, hard. In my experience, there is actual effort put into useful criticism that is evident and ultimately meant to be positive. Its goal is to help improve you rather than hurt you. To build you up rather than tear you down.

For me personally, processing criticism requires I step back from it, to try to see it from a distance rather than close up. This usually takes time. The initial reactions in the debut time of a project is not the best time for me to do this type of processing, so I try to let it all wash over me until I can put some space between what is being said and my emotional feelings about what I’ve created. Our projects are children of our minds. We want to protect them and need time to let them go out and have a life of their own.


Susan Henderson November 2, 2010 at 11:03 am

So right about criticism is easy and creating something is hard. I’m pretty good with constructive criticism (though I like it better when there’s still a chance to revise). I don’t like the glee some people have in trying to take someone or someone’s book down. I have to fight the instinct to then go and take them down.


Billy Bones November 2, 2010 at 11:33 am

Pretty sure you only supply them more glee when you take their bait.


Aurelio O'Brien November 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Too true.


Susan Henderson November 3, 2010 at 10:52 am

You are so right.


Billy Bones November 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm

People bring themselves to your story. In some cases the selves they bring are not very nice. That is their problem, not yours.


Susan Henderson November 2, 2010 at 11:04 am

You are right. (What did you give out for Halloween? I was thinking of you this weekend.)


Billy Bones November 2, 2010 at 11:15 am

Mr. Lincoln gave out flash drives loaded with the first chapters of both my books. They appeared to be a hit. (I think it was because my picture was printed on the front of each drive.)


Susan Henderson November 3, 2010 at 10:53 am

What a great gift!


Nathalie November 1, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Enjoy your hiatus, Susan.

Can’t comment on negativity right now, the mind is a stained blank.


Susan Henderson November 2, 2010 at 11:05 am

Nathalie, It’s so great to focus on writing again. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it.


Billy Bones November 1, 2010 at 7:42 pm

On the other hand (I’m channelling my inner Roald Dahl, here) the teensiest most despicable flea can teach you to jump higher, if you are willing to hear him out.


Susan Henderson November 2, 2010 at 11:06 am

Of course, Roald Dahl might suggest giving these people sleeping pills and stuffing them into a bag…


Billy Bones November 2, 2010 at 11:16 am

Now you’ve gone an made me smile at a ridiculously early morning hour.


Susan Henderson November 3, 2010 at 10:53 am



Jessica Keener November 1, 2010 at 11:42 pm

What great news about your novel and wonderful to see you getting on with your next one. Congratulations!

Negativity is tricky and often, for me, depends on what else is going on in my life. If I’m feeling pretty good about things in general, it’s much easier to deflect. But if I’m tired, or sick or fatigued by family challenges, then I become vulnerable to it and have to fight harder to regain my balance.

Confusion can be a negativity magnet, so I seek understanding and clarity by reaching out to trustworthy friends and professionals.

I also pray, and envision white light–both help me center. Feeling centered is a powerful, protective shield.


Susan Henderson November 2, 2010 at 11:08 am

Yes, that’s exactly it… when I’m uncentered, I’m suddenly open to everything negative. Very wise.


Eileen-Rita Folwell November 4, 2010 at 7:57 am

I try to stay positive about everything, I think it comes hand in hand with being a bit of a dreamer. Having worked in retail for 15 years I was pretty good at letting peoples negativity just slip right off me, but I’m struggling to overcome the words of my editor which has kept me from writing for the past six months.
I think when you take a blow to something you’ve conceived and feel so personally passionate about, it’s harder to rebound. But a healthy mind and a strong belief in yourself will get you there. A a strong support system of friends is also important – a sounding board louder then the voices in the head that can tell you not to give up.

My dad who’s an artist, says what’s important and true is what you see with your eyes, and feel with your heart so I think no matter what people say or do to knock you down, as long as you stay true to yourself and believe in the “what if’s” of this world you can bounce back from just about anything.


Susan Henderson November 4, 2010 at 11:15 am

Oh, I’m sorry about the blow from your editor. I know how that feels–both when the words are right but I don’t want to hear them, and also when the advice is off-base but makes me stop trusting my instincts. Love your dad’s wisdom… I’m going to remember that.


Eileen-Rita Folwell November 5, 2010 at 12:32 am

I think the trick that probably only comes with experience, is knowing which is which 🙂
It’s alright though, I’m sure it was the realistic knock off the cloud I needed.


Susan Henderson November 7, 2010 at 12:36 am

I agree about the struggle to know which is which!


patryfrancis November 8, 2010 at 8:14 pm

When I was waiting tables and I had a particularly rude or demeaning customer, I used to get through it by reminding myself that he/she had to go home with him/herself every single day–BUT I DIDN’T! Somehow that made me stand straighter and smile brighter and soar above the experience.

One good thing about the anti-bullying campaign is that it’s made a lot of people aware that it’s more than a playground phenomenon. There are some souls out there that are so shriveled that the only thing on earth that relieves their pain is to inflict it on others. Avoid them physically and psychically, and take comfort in the fact that you, in your incredible generosity to other writers (and I suspect everyone else in your life) are part of an unseen force that quietly tips the balance.


Susan Henderson November 9, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Patry, I’m going to print this up and post it somewhere. I love your waitressing story, and everything on your blog this month is pretty much saving my sanity. xo


Carmelo Valone November 9, 2010 at 6:26 pm

Hi Susan long time not talk!

I haven’t been on here in ages due my crazy schedule. Me personally, I have dealt with negative people in and out of publishing, Hollywood and more in numerous forms. My dyslexia used to make me think “there’s no way in hell someone like me could write at a higher artistic plane” but I did it anyways. I also had/have other rather intolerant teachers, editors and so on that have told me in the past that there is no way I could get to the level I need to be published or complete something of value, but the truth is everything we do we need to find as valuable to ourselves before it can be valuable to others. It will be at that moment only a person anyone for that fact will be able to beat the negativity of critics, colleagues, co-workers or classmates. And low and behold I have finished a new novel that I am getting some positive feedback on! And I also did pretty good recently at an international film festival. It’s all relative-just don’t be related to such negative types, life is too short. To quote the film Adaptation: “You are what you love not what loves you”, and it still rings true.

Congratulations on your novel “Up from the Blue” by the way! I am a bit belated but….I just bought an e-copy for the ole Ipad. I am enjoying it whole heartedly!



Susan Henderson November 11, 2010 at 12:26 am

Carmelo! Hey, I’ve missed you around here. And how fantastic about your novel and film festival news!

I think you’re right about it coming down to feeling you or what you’re doing has value. I’ve been thinking on this and about why the bad stuff sticks and the good slides right off, because the good has far outweighed the bad. It’s just, there’s an insistent voice deep in that doesn’t think I measure up, etc, etc, and the negative finds its way right to that core spot. It’s hard to unlearn the habit of kicking yourself, but I’m taking everything I learn here and trying to make the change.

Never seen my book on an iPad before… how cool… and thank you!


Carmelo valone November 14, 2010 at 8:37 pm

You are right though it does take a long time to ‘unlearn’ certain lousy crappy lessons. It had taken me a lifetime to unlearn the bad and be comfortable as my neurotic but happy self.

Your welcome about your book! You know what I enjoy about books written now about the 197os? Books written in the 70s had no real perspective on their own time frame, but when authors now write about then it somehow feels more real with more perspective since so much time has passed. You were my first ebook! I still miss the physical art work but it helps with saving trees and space so Ill try it out…its kind of neat-o.


Carmelo valone November 14, 2010 at 8:42 pm

I meant to say 1990s of course! Sorry I don’t know where my brain is sometimes!


Carmelo valone November 14, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Forget my comments about your book…what I wanted to say about ebooks is they sometimes forward ahead without you knowing about it so I had missed your 90s intro. It was annoying but I will deal and fixed it. I am not as great with technology as I appear to be!

Susan Henderson November 15, 2010 at 12:07 am

Your comments and photo: Adorable!

GC Smith November 9, 2010 at 8:31 pm

I’m to busy to worry about negative people or negativity in general. As well as writing I’m working 8-10 hours a day at no pay (shaping up a golf course and clubhouse our community recently purchased) and serving on the community’s Bard of Directors so I have no time for nonsense. Besides, I have confidence in my modest talent and that’s enough for me. Others may think and say what they will and I won’t care, unless, of course, what they say is positive and then I’ll be pleased.


Susan Henderson November 11, 2010 at 12:28 am

Ha, I love it! And wow, you contribute a lot to your community… fantastic!


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