Why Writers Prefer Bad News: Negativity Bias and Badass Blurbs


“We have a negativity bias . . . it’s biological. Cavemen had it to protect them from things that could kill. Which was pretty much everything.”

What does Negativity Bias have to do with writing?

Writers are more likely to be undone by a lack of confidence, persistence in the face of rejection, than by a lack of talent.

Of course, a rejection isn’t quite the same as being clubbed over the head or dragged off into the brush by a saber-toothed tiger, but it hurts more.

Writers slice open their guts and display their beating hearts only to be told they lack talent or aren’t original.

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.
– Sidney Sheldon

Recently, I shivered under an aggressive air vent in a local coffee shop, awaiting my Novel in a Year teacher. It was time for my one-on-one meeting to go over the first 100 pages of my manuscript. This was sold as a valuable facet of the class, but I was as excited about it as I was about having my gums scraped.

My teacher pulled up a chair, reached into her Iowa Writers Workshop tote bag and pulled out her 4 ½ page compilation of notes as I slurped my tea and willed the tears in my eyes to stay put.

She must have sensed my dread because she smiled kindly and started off with “I loved your book.”

I watched her lips move but the word “book” echoed in my head, drowning out any other sounds she may have been making. Book….bookoookkkk…. ooookkkk…. She called it a book!

Luckily, she wasn’t new to sharing feedback and had couched the 3 pages of what wasn’t working within an opening and closing paragraph of positive feedback meant to stem the flow of blood. She tried to give me a fighting chance to continue this writing thing.

About a week later, I shared the feedback with another mentor. She told me about negativity bias. I remembered reading something about it online or maybe hearing about it in a Ted Talk.

We are hard-wired to focus on negative feedback. It’s a real thing. A survival gift from our ancestors.

The problem is, with a creative pursuit such as writing, focusing on the negative can kill your ideas, your confidence, and your determination. Kill them dead.

You have to have negative feedback and you have to address it to improve. But your poor warped brain—not to mention your pride—can only take so much.

My mentor suggested I take the 4 ½ pages of notes from the teacher and retype or hand write every positive comment as if it were a “blurb” on my book jacket. Talk about balls: I’d not only have to envision a book, I’d have to envision famous authors complimenting me on my book.

I usually ignore this “pat yourself on the back” homework feeling the more protestant urge to flog myself instead. Surely the only way to get better, to get where I want to go with my writing, is to focus on the negative and fix it.


But I didn’t have to make it up. There was good stuff in her comments. I had done some things well.

I decided to take my mentor’s advice. After all, she has a publisher, an agent, and makes a living writing and coaching other writers.

One printed page later, I have it. I call it my Blurbs of Badassery. I hung it above my desk for now.

You can check it out here: Blurbs of Badassery and Negativity Bias

My teacher’s critique is an invaluable road map to improve my novel, and rereading her compliments fuels my revision engine.

When you get your next critique or maybe just a compliment from a first reader, take a few minutes. Breathe in. Breathe out. Digest the good. Use it to bolster your confidence, to reassure you that you have what it takes. What it takes is improvement and persistence.

Don’t be so quick to dismiss the affirmations of your work. They can revive and restore when you need it most.


Type them up. Post them where you can see them every day. Until you get new ones…then type those up, too. You’re a badass and you have the blurbs to prove it!

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