Negative feedback on your writing is hard, even when someone delivers it with sensitivity. I got negative feedback regularly from my writing group, but it was rarely as bad as it sounds.
Most of the time, the members were complimentary. When I got negative feedback, I tried to see it from their point of view. Because sometimes I get so wrapped up in my topic that I forget that readers are not as excited.
My first response is always the same, though. I try to keep it in my head: “It’s so obvious!” I shriek to myself. “Why don’t you get it?”
But these readers are just responding to what they saw on the page. They don’t know what’s in my head, or what I was intending. That’s why they didn’t get it. I wasn’t clear enough, or maybe not entertaining enough.
There’s anxiety involved with showing someone your work, of course. You’re vulnerable. You don’t want to hear anything painful. It’s one of the hardest parts about being a writer, but also the most worthwhile.
So seek out negative feedback. You need to hear that your work is not perfect, because perfection is unattainable anyway. And you’ll be a better writer for it. Because writing is mostly rewriting, and feedback is a gift: it helps you get to a better next draft.
Here are 7 ways to deal with negative feedback:
1. Only show your work to someone you trust.
Be careful about this. Some people are competitive, envious or harsh in their feedback. No one needs that. Start with a small piece of writing and see if you get a constructive response.
2. Try to get verbal feedback, and listen.
Verbal comments can be better because we miss so many clues in written feedback. Email and edits may have no emotion or judgement, but it’s easy to interpret otherwise. If the person is in front of you, you get their non-verbal clues as well.
Even in person, I get anxious and I want to interrupt and explain. But if possible, keep quiet and take in the negative feedback.
3. Don’t take it personally.
Years ago I got harsh feedback on a book proposal, and I took it as failure. I stopped writing for years, other than on this blog. It took so long to climb out from a bruised ego. I never want to go through that again!
There’s a difference between criticism of you and a criticism of your writing. Try not to decide it’s the former, like I did.
4. Distance yourself and don’t respond.
Yes it’s your baby, and you’ve worked hard on it. I’ve found that if I wait a while to show my work to someone, I feel somewhat separated from it. It’s easier to tolerate the negative feedback.
The best response is short. Simply say “thank you.” That’s all, unless you can also manage to smile.
5. Evaluate the criticism with honesty.
Is what your reader says true and useful? That kind of feedback is golden. This is why you showed it to them in the first place, right?
Occasionally people have weird ideas about your work and how to fix it. You can just thank them and tell them you’ll think about their edits. It’s okay to decide you’re not going to use what they say.
6. Don’t go in with a swelled head.
If you think you’re work is a masterpiece, and you’re just looking for confirmation, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
Try to look at your work as something with potential. That way it makes sense to show it, because there’s room for improvement.
If you only asked your mother and friends who love you, and they can’t bear to tell you anything that might hurt your feelings, that’s not going to work either.
7. Use it as an opportunity. Don’t give up.
The goal of criticism is to give you good information for your next draft. I like the idea that my next piece of writing will be clearer, brighter and better organized. It still stings when people don’t like my work, but I’m better now at harnessing their negative feedback to improve my writing.
So acknowledge that someone gave you a heartfelt opinion, and maybe it was hard for them to do so. Delivering bad news is never easy.
I’ll leave you with a thought about hearing feedback. Often people tell me positive stuff: that they loved it and they thought it was beautifully written. I tend to discount those comments. It’s good to remember the positive feedback too, and bask in it a little.
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How do you deal with negative feedback? Tell me. Are you comfortable giving it?