Writer’s Guide to Making Feedback Helpful, Not Hurtful
Written by: Christine B.
February 3, 2022
Feedback is vital for rewriting because it gives you a clear path to follow plus the tools to focus on what’s in dire need of improvement. Receiving it is an important way for writers to see if they’re on the right track. But it’s a vulnerable process, and if you’re not good at handling it, then you’re more likely to avoid it altogether. Here’s how to handle feedback to help your writing without getting hurt.
It’s not personal
As writers, we pour ourselves into our work, and sometimes even the most well-meaning feedback can feel like a personal attack- It’s not. It is about the work, not about you. No story is perfect, especially on the first run, and every writer has room to improve.
If you feel especially down, which can happen when you initially receive negative feedback, allow yourself to grieve for a moment, then let it go. It’s important to acknowledge your own feelings first, but to then let your attachment to your writing project go. With time and practice, you’ll be able to look at criticism through an objective lens.
Don’t Get Defensive
Getting defensive usually negates our ability to listen. Trying to explain why you were right to do it this way, and the reader’s opinion is wrong will be a waste of time. It’s not a good look, and it really won’t achieve anything for you in the end. Not everyone will love your writing, and it’s not your job to defend it to those who don’t. Take the time to listen. Realize that others want to help and have been kind enough to take the time to examine your work. If possible, ask questions. Sometimes the suggestions that you receive through feedback can lead to great brainstorming sessions- or even a writing partnership.
Examine Your Feedback Source
Consider the source of your feedback before implementing changes. For example, an experienced editor can be trusted to give useful feedback while a social media commenter might not have the most credibility. Anytime you receive feedback, it’s important to consider the source.
That’s not to say you should immediately write off (literally) the opinions of non-professional readers; Before you decide that a critic is wrong, make sure you’ve taken the time to consider if they might be right. This is especially true when more than one person gives you the same feedback. If three beta readers say they don’t understand your character’s motives, then you probably have some work to do.
Knowing Good Feedback vs. Bad Feedback
Not all feedback will be useful. The most valuable feedback is honest, specific, and actionable. ‘Bad’ critiques are usually opinionated, vague, and point only to flaws without inspiring actionable ideas. Give all of the feedback you receive your consideration, but in the end, keep only what resonates. Use your gut and the vision you have about your project to guide you through your readings.
Create a plan
The whole point of getting it is to improve your writing through useful changes, so don’t resist it! Feedback means there’s work to be done. Positive reaction doesn’t mean you can kick your feet up either, there’s always something to improve. You know your work in detail, but the response you get from a third party can also give you new ideas, creative references, examples and information to apply further.
It can be hard to keep up with all the information, so take notes while you work. Once you’ve sifted through it and found constructive ideas, it’s time to work them into an actionable plan. So gather up your notes, make a plan for rewriting based on your goals, and get going.