Dealing With Detractors When You’re Niche: Analysis of Zen Habits’ 8 Ways to Deal With Detractors

When writing is a struggle and I’m convinced no one has the attention span for a musical folk rock alternative spoken word partly sung science fiction horror surrealist novel about denial, I reread this post from Zen Habits:

The work I’m doing on the musical version of the Horde is definately not for everyone or at least isn’t something everyoen is going to be interested in figuring out how to enjoy. It doesn’t have Disney style melodies and often eschews clarity of the spoken word for tone, feel, and sonic meaning.

At least, that’s what I’m trying to do.

In this post, Leo Babauta advocates that we not let detractors stop us or even slow us down. Every time I hear negative feedback, regardless of the source, it serves as a road bump and the only solution I’ve found is to keep moving on the project.

The more I let negativity derail progress on the Horde, the harder it is to get the writing/recording machine cranking again.

Babauta suggests that you first learn to identify detractors. This is perhaps the most important of his points. I’ve made the mistake of trusting people who, at times, were far too scared to pursue their own goals or ideas and used mine as an outlet for their own repressed frustration.

Some friends may have negative comments and these are very useful. The key issue is, I think, over time does this person and their comments encourage you to continue on your path or to give up and take the easy road.

I recently met someone over twitter who had a negative response to the musical version of my first chapter and provided detailed comments as to why it didn’t work for him. He was very apologetic about his opinions but had very strong feelings about how I was producing the Horde.

However, rather than being discouraging, he framed his comments as an attempt to improve the actual production, so I found his feedback encouraging. This is very different from the sort of negativity that simply discourages, which brings me to Babauta’s second tip.

Babauta suggests looking at the validity of any points made by the detractor. This seems at odds with his earlier advice to “not let them stop you or even slow you down.” However, sometimes the message a detractor brings may be useful in improving the project.

In the Horde, I listened to the concerns of the people who weren’t feeling the first chapter and, while I’m not changing the project, some of their comments have spurred a much more intense focus on clarity of speaking, spending more time crafting melodies, and the consideration of making a spoken word version available.

In other words, when I stepped back from the detractor and looked only at their comments- divorced both from their issues and any of my self worth that might be tied up in this project- I was able to use them to improve the project as a whole.

Simply put, chapters two, three, and four are much better than chapter one, largely in part due to the negative (and positive) feedback I’ve received about what was helping people enjoy the experience.

His next two tips are almost identical: at heart, he urges us to reject the power of detractors over our self worth and productivity. Some negative people serve as viral carriers, their frustration infects and spreads till everything seems like it isn’t working. These people will always be there.

While it is never an easy matter to simply stop negative thoughts and let negative comments “slide off you like water on a duck’s back,” it is still one of the most important skills to master, especially when creating work that may offend or easily be misunderstood.

I think of how many people criticized the work of Amanda Palmer, J. D. Salinger, Claude Monet, and Stanley Kubrick as untalented, base, or fundamentally flawed and this helps me. I may not have found my audience yet, but they’re out there. It’s often a matter of perseverance.

The next three tips focus on turning detractors into allies by either enlisting their help, laughing with them, or countering their arguments. Often these tactics are quite successful. The above-mentioned twitterer has shared a number of interesting ideas with me and given me some insight into who I’m writing for and why.

This hardest, perhaps, with the nastiest negative people but often detractors seem to come from a place of discomfort: they are worried or unsure about something in what you’re doing and, given time and that your work is actually of quality substance, they will acclimate.

Babauta’s final tip is to “be secure in the knowledge that you are doing something good.” This is perhaps the hardest part. There are a number of works out their that needed significant revision, criticism, and improvement before they were ready to be released on the general public.

This reminds me of a favorite Winston Churchill niblet explaining that he is an optimist because it doesn’t seem much use to be anything else.

I don’t think Babauta is telling you to believe that what you are creating is “good as is” but rather that it is “worthwhile.” In other words, that what you are creating is worth the investment of your time and energy to make it as excellent as possible, regardless of how far it seems you have to go before the project is completed.

Coming soon: An analysis of Rebecca Black’s “Friday” contrasted with the early films of Ed Wood using this article as a metric. Wait for it!


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