A little encouragement goes a long way
For a whole month I have written one story a day on Medium. Today I’m celebrating my achievement and looking back on what I’ve learned.
For the first part of my journey I didn’t worry too much about the day ahead. I knew that if I kept putting one foot in front of the other some idea would come to me that day and I would write about it.
Recently I have started to worry more about what I’m going to write. I am creating a pool of ideas and selecting from it. I don’t want to be feeling like I am facing a blank page with no ideas.
I think there is an important lesson that I mustn’t forget though. Focus on the process not the outcome. If I concentrate on what the results will be, what I hope to produce, then it is paralysing. Instead I need to just remember to listen to the ideas that come and write about those.
My problem with praise
I have always had difficultly accepting praise. When I was at school I had an English teacher who particularly liked a piece I wrote about Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. At the start of the lesson he started to read from my essay and I became more and more uncomfortable.
It became so bad that about three quarters of the way through him reading I stood up. I wanted him to stop so badly. Nobody at this stage knew that the writing was mine but I was dreading the moment that they did. Even though he had said that he liked it, and was reading it because he wanted to share it, I anticipated the moment that everyone would turn to me and connect what they had just heard with me.
It was a piece in which I’d been intensely personal about what I liked and didn’t like about the book. That was what my teacher had picked up on. It was why he liked it. For teenage me it was the worst thing that could have happened.
For ten years I taught mathematics to high school students. I enjoyed the work, particularly the creative side, coming up with interesting ways of presenting the topic and getting the students involved.
One area that I always had a problem with was praise. Whenever I fed back to a student what I thought about their work I would feel inauthentic. It didn’t matter the quality of the work, it was more about the fact that I was giving them praise. Probably stemming from my own problems with receiving praise.
I have become much better at receiving feedback. There was a moment when I read that if you constantly deflect when people pay you a compliment then you are training them not to give them. Eventually they will stop.
It made me realise that it wasn’t their comments that I had trouble with, it was the embarrassment of feeling seen. I felt that if I showed that I liked what they were saying then they would have control over me. It would mean that they would see how vulnerable I was to hearing feedback. They would have the power to lift me up or bring me down.
Once I realised that, I decided that I needed to be generous in my response. They had taken the time to tell me what they thought. I needed that. Feedback is one of the most powerful ways of making change. I started thanking people for their response and asking them what they particularly felt worked for them. How did it make them feel?
Encouragement not praise
Today I reflected back on writing a post every day. One of the big things that has kept me going has been receiving feedback. If I had been writing on my blog and no-one was reading, then I doubt I would have come this far. The Medium platform is great for the ease with which you can publish and share what you have written.
One of the encouragements to post my first article was a course by Tim Denning in the Bad Assery Academy about writing on Medium. There is a slack group and on there I received a number of positive comments after I posted my first article.
It is a strange thing, but only today did I realise that by reframing the feedback I received as encouragement not praise, it suddenly warmed my heart rather than embarrassing me.
One way in which Medium gives encouragement is through the statistics on the stories. You can see how many people have viewed, read, and clapped for your posts. There is also the possibility that others might follow you, so they see more of what you write, or subscribe to receive an email when you publish.
There is a danger of becoming addicted to these statistics, a staddict. It is too easy to keep coming back to see if someone has read or clapped for the story you put your effort into. This external motivator can harm your ability to write in the first place.
So I’m battling the need to look at them. We clamour for praise, for validation, for someone to say well done. The statistics give you a little dopamine hit when they go up. But they also create a little downer when they don’t.
A little encouragement goes a long way
I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has encouraged me over the month. There are the people in the slack channel who don’t know me but read my first article and told me to keep writing.
There are the friends who I’ve seen who have told me they had read something I wrote and it meant something to them.
There is the friend who took the time to send a text message and tell me she was enjoying what I wrote.
There is the friend who has shared my posts her social media with a wider audience.
And my husband who is always encouraging me, every day, to write.
I hope that in my work as a book coach I can be as generous in my encouragement. Sometimes it makes all the difference between carrying on and giving up.