This newsletter was born out of the Write of Passage (WoP) course. I started it after doing my second cohort. One of the biggest lessons I learned in WoP was that writing is social. It’s not something you do alone. From ideating the first inkling of an idea, to maturing it through conversation, and then receiving feedback on a draft. I never write in isolation anymore.
Receiving feedback on a draft is specifically helpful to get a reflection on your thoughts. See what works, what doesn't, and if people even understand what you’re talking about.
This extends into publishing a piece online and receiving likes or comments. It gives you a sense of what people relate to. In a sense, receiving feedback continues after the piece is published.
Because the community within WoP is so strong, we all read each other’s work and follow each other’s writing journeys. It’s a heartwarming and supportive vibe that helps all of us to keep going, even if our writing isn’t always that good.
Publishing online can feel daunting, especially in the beginning. And the virtual ‘likes’ from peers are much appreciated. But a big part of improving your writing by publishing online is the feedback (or signal) you receive.
As soon as the support becomes constant, (i.e. every piece is ‘liked’ because people know and support you) it becomes difficult to separate the signal from the noise. A vacuum isn’t helpful, but neither is saturation. “Does this ‘like’ mean that they really enjoyed this piece or are they just friendly, polite, or cheerleading?” Repeated 'likes' just numb our sensitivity. Those ‘likes’ become a shoulder shrug instead of a signal you can use.
I do it too. I liberally ‘like’ all the time. Even if it’s just to acknowledge that I’ve seen or read something. It's natural for caring, empathic humans to help each other out with a 'like'. And I’m not faulting the people who’ve ‘liked’ me in the past (not in the least to prevent total crickets after this edition…).
Leaving a comment is different. That’s putting in some effort and there’s a bigger chance that someone is actually touched in some way by what you’ve written. You can usually tell by the content of the comment, if it’s specific and genuine, there’s no cheerleading going on there.
In the world of coaching we work with people's strengths. We make an effort to find them, call them out and see if clients can ‘claim them’. Making your strengths your own is a very powerful tool for increasing your motivation to change.
This is often called affirming. Three things are important when you’re affirming someone’s strength(s).
It’s a genuine observation, versus a blanket statement like: ‘wow, you’re awesome’. Tell them what you see.
It’s specific to the person, instead of a general comment like: ‘you’re a very good writer’. Tell them why.
They’re used sparingly. Quality over quantity.
In short, affirming is the opposite of cheerleading. Instead of saying: ‘great job’, we say ‘the way you kept your focus throughout that difficult process showed your determination’. Or something like that.
In coaching, we take 'positive remarks' very seriously. Maybe we should do the same with handing out ‘likes’ online.
What do you think? Did you like this edition?
I'm glad you are bringing this dynamic into conversation Rik. I treat the feedback pretty much as you describe, that a "like" is just a friend saying hi, and even some comments are like that. But when someone lets you know that the content was valuable, thoughtful, or provocative it means a lot more and indicates that you're barking up the right tree so to speak. I honestly feel that the "like" feature on most platforms should go away. Commenting is always where the value is, if there is value to be exchanging with respect to writing online. I find your ways of thinking, and how you do you it out loud, consistently useful and engaging.
The way you differentiate cheerleading from affirming demonstrates your discernment as a coach :,)