Accentuate the positive?

The late Stephanie Feeney, founder of the Northwest Gardeners’ Resource Directory, was a superb writer and public speaker. I remember hearing her talk about English gardens at the Northwest Garden Show at a time when I was considering writing a travel guide to mystery locales. I noticed immediately that Stephanie managed to be colorful, amusing, and distinctive without ever falling back on two very common communications crutches: deprecation and self deprecation.

Anyone who’s made a living writing criticism knows how much more attention accrues to a clever, withering attack on a book or film than to an equally well-crafted paean. Complaints and criticism, at least when initially (and creatively) expressed, can be highly entertaining.

And yet, over time, that attention-getting negative approach can come back to hurt a writer. Gradually, the reader comes to think of the writer, the column, or the blog as one long whine, rant, or pity fest.

This danger, I think, is particularly true when writing “how-to” pieces or advice. The writer who focuses advice on what to avoid and how to spot signs that you are screwing up runs the risk of coming across as a sanctimonious finger-waggler. Unless you know the author well, or she is addressing your specific situation, it can be very easy to decide the last thing you want to read is, well, an unsolicited lecture or a dose of negativity.

In September, marketing guru Daphne Gray-Grant wrote a piece for Marketingprofs.com on “Five Negative Thoughts That Can Sabotage Your Writing (and How to Shake Them).” This month she followed up with “Five Positive Thoughts That Will Turbocharge Your Writing (and How to Channel Them).”

Both articles are packed with good information. I’d be curious to hear your reactions to the titles, and to the pieces themselves. Which one did you want to read most? Did you enjoy reading one more than the other?

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