5 Healthy Attitudes for Receiving Feedback as a Writer
Every writer is their own worst critic. So it has been said.
For many early writers, the recognition of imperfect writing can be paralyzing.
It’s true that every writer has a personal standard of excellence, but no matter how many times we pick apart, analyze, or rewrite our work, there will always be things we miss, can’t see, or don’t know how to fix.
This is where feedback from other writers, editors, and readers becomes an essential part of the writing process.
We may not like it, but gathering feedback, both positive and negative, can mean the difference between a manuscript that ends up in a drawer versus one that ends up on a bookstore shelf and in front of many paying readers, not just friends or those in a writers’ group.
As writers, a fresh set of eyes can help us see what works (or doesn’t) when we’ve been staring at the same pages for far too long.
And although letting others read your imperfect work is a vulnerable part of the writing process, there is a healthy attitude to receiving feedback as a writer that can help you (and your writing) moving forward.
Here, then, are five suggestions for developing a healthy attitude when seeking and receiving feedback.
1. Develop Humility by Being Open-Minded
No matter how good you think your work is, there’s a very good chance there’s always room for improvement.
Even the most untrained reader can provide valuable notes on things they liked (or don’t) and things they think work (or don’t) in what we’ve written.
I know what you might be thinking: when should I send something to someone else to read?
To start, we should never send a rushed or incomplete draft with more many spelling and grammar errors than actual finished sentences to any reader!
It’s our job to slush through the bad early drafts, not a reader’s.
If you know there’s obvious problems with your manuscript, fix them first.
Asking someone to smell rotten food and tell you if it smells bad isn’t feedback. It’s cruel.
If there’s a story idea you want feedback on, pitch the idea. See if it gets people’s ears to perk up, then proceed writing that story.
If there’s something you’re stuck on and need help with, workshop it with other writers.
Join a writers’ group. Take a writing class. Become part of a writing workshop.
These are the places where artists can, to coin a phrase from the great Linda Love Simmons, throw spaghetti on the wall and try to make sense of it.
If experimentation is the agreed-upon objective, have at it.
But save sending out a full manuscript or story or article to readers when you know it’s in a good place.
Does it have to be perfect? Of course not. The point of feedback is to make it better. That should be your goal.
Once you no longer have major notes to give yourself, it’s time to let others take a look.
But be humble!
If you send your work to others and then get upset or dismiss them when they point on things they don’t like or don’t think work, why did you ask for feedback in the first place?
The goal of receiving feedback should be clarification and confirmation. Sometimes that means praise; other times it means criticism. Be open-minded.
Go into the feedback process knowing there will be things your readers notice that you haven’t. That’s good!
You’ve been starring at this story longer than they have.
Let fresh eyes provide fresh insight and even excitement.
Sometimes a reader will have a really good suggestion. Don’t let your pride get the better of you! Take the note. Integrate it into your manuscript if it helps. And move on.
If your attitude when receiving feedback is to make your work even better, you’ll be willing to grow and will learn to treasure others who help you do it.
2. Choose the Right Reader(s)
Not every person you think of sending your work may be the right reader for you.
Moms and spouses are great. Writing coaches are wonderful. Fellow writers are amazing. But who is really going to offer the best feedback that will help you and your manuscript moving forward? Each has their strengths (and weaknesses).
Friends and family members can be incredibly encouraging! Sometimes we need that.
However, spouses, parents, or siblings may also not be as forthcoming about things they don’t like out of consideration for you, whose feelings they don’t want to hurt.
They may seek to praise and encourage; you may be looking for honest, brutal feedback.
Furthermore, consider how it will affect you if a loved one, such as a spouse or parent, does provide an honest critique.
I’ve known writers who were devastated when they learned their fathers or wives didn’t love their work.
It didn’t matter that the writer had asked for their opinions. That feedback, given the source, hit harder than the rest.
Are you prepared for that? If not, consider a different reader.
Some writers seek a balance of diverse readers; young and old, avid and casual, etc. That’s fine. Just know how you plan to sort through contrasting opinions and conflicting notes.
The more diverse the reader pool, the more unique the opinions will be.
Maybe you need the refined eye of a writing coach or group of writers who know the craft and speak your language. Seek them out. They’ll pick up on things other readers might not.
Just remember. Other writers have egos too, and some readers may be overly critical, not because they want to help you, but because they need to validate themselves by ripping apart another writer’s work or showing others how much they know.
Be mindful of tagalongs and trolls. They’re out there.
If a writer is insecure about their own work, they might not be as edifying or honest about yours when the time comes.
In any case, choose your readers carefully.
3. Seek Clarity by Asking Specific Questions
One of the best ways to get targeted feedback is by learning to ask specific questions.
If you ask a reader, “did you like it?” you may get a very simply yes or no. That may or may not be very helpful.
What areas of your manuscript are you most curious or concerned about? Don’t be afraid to ask. Shine a spotlight on areas of weakness and guide your reader to areas you want them to focus.
If you are okay with general feedback, you’ll get it. In fact, this might be a great place to start. It’s often better to let your reader go into your work without any preconceptions.
However, it’s important to have specific questions ready to go after general feedback is delivered.
I know a writer who often sends his readers a survey to fill out after they’ve read his work. It’s not a bad idea. At the very least, it allows him to ask specific questions and get specific feedback.
The more specific you are, the more targeted your reader can be with their feedback.
4. Develop Gratitude by Thanking Your Reader
One of the biggest mistakes I see a lot of writers make when it comes to asking for feedback is not respecting the time it takes for someone to read your work.
If you are asking someone to read an entire manuscript, give them a generous amount of time to do so.
If you rush your reader, not only are you being inconsiderate, you may not get very accurate or honest notes because you may have given them enough time to read your work in its entirety.
Likewise, even a smaller writing sample or short story is still time out a person’s day to review and think about your writing. Whether it’s twenty minutes or two days-worth of reading, that’s still time spent on your behalf.
Show your appreciation by being considerate of their time.
Payment is also an area worth considering. Let me be clear: if you can afford to pay your readers, pay them!!! They deserve it.
Not only does payment show you value their time and insight, it communicates to your reader that you take your work serious as well.
Some readers, especially if they are good friends or fellow writers, may decline payment. That’s their choice.
If you cannot pay a reader (or they decline), do everything you can to show your appreciation throughout the process.
Take them to dinner. Buy them coffee. Cover their gas if they’re driving to meet you for a sit down. At the very least, write them a thank you note when all is said and done.
Likewise, if you’re getting feedback from a fellow writer, be willing to do the same thing for them when the time comes.
Many writers swap manuscripts as a way to help each other and grow together. That’s awesome!
But for goodness sake, don’t get testy with your reader or become defensive.
We’ve all seen contestants on American Idol argue with the judges. They may become famous on YouTube, but they also don’t go very far in the competition. Don’t be a jackass!
If the person you’ve asked for feedback has a note for you, listen. Consider it. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t even have to implement it (unless it’s your editor).
Ask clarifying questions, but you should never insult, attack, or belittle a reader for giving you a note.
And if it is an editor or mentor giving you the note, be humble enough to consider that maybe they know a little more than you and are giving you a note for your benefit.
Regardless, take the note, whether it’s good or bad, stomach the feedback, even if it hurts, and thank them for their insight. Then you can decide what to do with the note once it’s been given.
5. Apply Feedback Appropriately
Once you’ve gathered feedback, the next thing to do is begin to apply it.
Sometimes too much feedback can be problematic, especially if notes begin to contradict each other. Wanting more feedback may also be a sign of procrastination too. In any case, once you have good notes/feedback, it’s time to get back to work.
Unfortunately, many writers go out of their way to get feedback from readers but then proceed to do nothing with it. Don’t be that writer.
When you have notes, go through them, decide which ones are most useful, and dive into the rewriting process. If you wait too long, there’s a good chance the feedback will become meaningless because you’ll forget what it means.
Not every note needs to be treated equally.
Some feedback can be really helpful because it hits the nail right on the head. It answered your questions, showed you areas of your writing that needed work, and inspired you to make necessary improvements. Other notes can miss the mark entirely. You have to decide which ones are relevant and helpful and which ones are not.
At the very least, have a plan for your writing, including the feedback, consideration, and rewriting process.
Like a coach providing video recap to his players on their performance the night before, feedback only matters if you actually do something with it.
So develop a growth mentality. Seek out proper readers. Be humble. Be open-minded. Be honest with yourself and others. Be grateful. And above all, get back to writing.
On that note, I hope you have a wonderful week. Thank you for taking the time to stop by. If you liked this post, please hit the heart icon below or leave a comment below.
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