Writing: Why the “cult of nice” is not helping you

“The cult of nice”

The”Cult of nice” is about being nice. “Let’s be friendly”, “let’s be nice”. It is about avoiding confrontation. And I advice you not to rely on that, neither to play along int it. For several reasons I will state down below.

If you are in a “cult of nice” kind of group, the question is: how does it help you, yourself. Is your aim to grow as a writer or do you need — at this point — mostly confirmation of you as a (budding) writer and do you need their nice support to go on?

On feedback

Writing is very much like programming. You build up a certain world. You work with expectations. And if you do it right, your writing will land the exact effect you had in mind when you wrote your story: joy, laughter, sadness, grief, anger, a movement to action.

Writing is a fuzzy science. It has certain rules and tools that help you reach your wanted effects, but the whole of all elements of that “science” is so huge that to STUDY it will take you years. And when you know all theory, based on that theory alone you will still not be able to write anything engaging and awesome.

You need to practice. You need to become aware of “what works” and “what does not work” in the same way as you did when you learned to drive a car, a bike. When you learned how to throw a ball. By doing. By practice. By doing over and over and over again and accept that there will be a lot of failure on the way.

By understanding failure itself is a very normal part of the process.

Feedback HELPS you to get things quicker. Instead of being alone, there are at least TWO of you.

“Why is the ball not where I wanted it to be?” (you) “Maybe try throwing a bit higher” (your friend) “Yes! That worked — almost”

The more experienced the person is who gives you feedback, the harsher it might become. And the more extra work you will have to do.

“You need to do research.” “Wikipedia?” “No. Books.” “What?” (What follows: a long list of things to research) “For this one story?” “Yes.” “But!” “No.”

Stage 1: “I do it for the support”

Writing is a harsh business. It is you, alone. In your room. With a screen and your ideas. Without anyone to give you feedback, without any fellow (writer) friends, you (your stories) will probably not be read. And it is easy to be discouraged. So, having writer-friends who are nice and give you uplifting advice is awesome!

Read no further. When you are still in the beginning stage, insecure, the “cult of nice” is super. It is your support-group. The ones who will tell you: “please write more. We loved your character in story XYZ”.

In stage 1, the “cult of nice” is legit! It is great. It is perfect for stage one of your writing: “getting my stories on paper”. To encourage you to continue.

One thing “the cult of nice” is not giving you though: a critical view on your writing. Feedback that help you get out all the “bugs” in your story: things that do not add up. Things that are illogical. Things you should not do at all. They do not force you to find your own voice and dig DEEP.

Moving to stage 2: finding someone you trust

If you want more, if you want to get published in more professional places, if you dream of “becoming one of the best writers in my field”, you need to move on.

Once you feel secure enough to have people look at your stories and say: “this, that and that is not OK”. “So and so needs to be rewritten” you need to move out of your circle of “nice people”. You need to find someone you trust.

  1. To give you honest feedback — What can be better? What did not work?
  2. To protect you from yourself — It is easy to get and feel hurt when someone is honest and shows you “you are not there yet by miles”. It is easy to give up and say: “I suck as a writer. It is too mcuh work. I quit.” Someone who understands your sensibility and will not tear you to ribbons. Who understand where you are NOW and will not ask you to do the impossible. Just your best as you can do it now.
  3. To help you get used to feedback — It takes time before you can look at your own work and say: “indeed. this is wrong” without feeling the comment is about YOU instead of your stories.

Honest feedback is hard and hurtful the first few times. “Yes but!” and “but, but, but” and “but you…” and “you do not understand…” will probably be your first set of replies. Because it hurts to find out you are not that awesome YET. That that scene you were really proud of did not work at all for your reader and needs a thorough rewriting. That people did not like things AT ALL and you need to drop it.

Once you start getting the feel of working WITH someone and see your stories grow in quality, you are probably sliding into stage 3.

Moving to stage 3: feeling confident about your own writing

Stage 3 is understanding that feedback IMPROVES your story.

You start to understand that you are not your stories and when people give feedback on your work, they are not attacking you. That when people did not understand your writing, it is probably because you forgot somethign or was unclear in your introduction.

You understand that when they talk about your stories and what happened to them when they consumed it, that they are talking about your stories and what happened when they consumed them.

If the feedback is “I did not like it” it does not say: “I do not like you” or “you are a bad writer and should stop”. It says: “here is room for improvement”.

Feeling confident about your writing is understanding your work is always a work in progress and that each story is just a snapshot of where you are now. It is not “being arrogant”. It is accepting that there is always room for improvement and that becoming as good as you WANT to be takes time. And writing. And re-writing. And learning. And feeling sad from time to time. And discarding a story. And picking up an idea again. And trying.

It is accepting that becoming “good” takes work, requires work and requires feedback from others. It takes the acceptation that you, as a writer, have blind spots. things you overlook because you never considered to look at it that way. “Why are there no women in your story?” “Why is everyone talking in the same way?” “Why does the story suddenly changes direction and does not finish what you started?”

Why you should move out of “the cult of nice”

“The cult of nice” has a limited use as said before. Here is why you should move out on the long term. If you want to grow.

  1. It is not helping you — To be “nice” and to avoid confrontation is not helping you. It is not helping you to become a better writer (or person). It avoids pointing out the things that are wrong in your stories. As a result you will continue to repeat the same kind of mistakes in your work, not growing and not getting any farther.
  2. It is not helping others — When you tell someone: “this was a nice story, really: something something positive” when that writer asks you feedback, without also pointing out things you did NOT like, you are lying. You are also denying that person the change to correct mistakes and denying him or her the chance to grow as a writer.
  3. You create a false image of yourself — The “cult of nice” regardless of its good intentions, is turning you into a hypocrite.

Should you be rude?

“Then what?” you might ask. “Write down everything I did not like? Be rude. Be brutally honest?”

No. You negotiate.

  1. Ask the person what kind of feedback he/she requires — Just a shallow feedback? An in-depth review? What is he/she looking for right now to grow as a writer?
  2. Make clear beforehand what you can offer and what not — It is possible you are completely awesome in finding errors in text. Spelling, construction of sentences. And that your feedback on story-structure is less good. OR that you are a complete nerd on story structure and continuity and that you will be ruthless on that. Communicate in 2 or 3 sentences what you will be reviewing on, based on YOUR qualities.
  3. Ask for permission — “Can I be completely brutal?” “Can I be shallow and only give feedback on A, B and C?” and so on.
  4. Be clear — Give what you negotiated. Do not nogotiate “A” and then give “B” as an un-negotiated bonus.

Someone you like wrote a story you found “meh”

What do you do? “Be nice?” Be honest?

The thing is: it is more relevant to be honest than nice. To be reliable in your feedback. When you tell me: “Your story in A was really good” and I discover later that you did not really like it, I will not trust your judgement anymore. I will not ask you for feedback.

I do not want you to be nice.

I want you to be reliable.

If I ask you “how did you like my story?” you can reply with: “you have done better” or “I was not that impressed”.

If we know each other, I probably appreciate your feedback, so you can add: “do you want me to write down a short review?”

If you know I get easily hurt by your feedback, as I am not yet ready to receive criticism on my work (my precious babbies!) maybe saying nothing is better.

“But what about my writer friends”?

It is possible you have a group of writer friends around you that share the “cult of nice”. Question is: are they friends, or just fellow travelers?

Sticking in the cult of nice



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