Dealing with writing feedback is something we all struggle with. It can be hard and upsetting to receive a critique that points out the problems with your work, no matter how nicely worded that critique is, because you’ve more than likely poured a lot of yourself into it, and spent weeks, months or even years on the project. I won’t lie, when I was searching for a literary agent, sometimes the feedback had me tearful, even if the agents were lovely about it, because I’d spent a long time polishing that manuscript, and to know that it wasn’t there yet hurt!
But here’s the thing: hard work and time invested in something don’t mean it works as it is. It’s unfair, but with writing, it’s true. Thankfully, there are some things you can do when you receive feedback that’ll make it easier to deal with, and that will help you improve both your work and your writing career.
Don’t argue with the person giving you the feedback
To improve your work, taking advice or critique on board is so important. After all, that’s why you went looking for critique partners/hired an editor, right? I’m not saying you have to take every single piece of advice – you may find some of it doesn’t ring true for you – but listening and considering feedback carefully can help you develop your work. If someone has noticed an issue or asked a question, it’s probably for a reason – because you haven’t communicated something clearly in your project. Arguing only makes you seem defensive. Try to keep negative emotions in check.
If you’re arguing with literary agent rejections, particularly if they’ve taken time to give you notes, you’re giving yourself a reputation as someone who isn’t easy to work with and isn’t willing to grow or learn. The publishing industry is all about feedback and working with others, so it’s important to listen, even if you don’t necessarily agree.
Let the feedback sit
Once you’ve read through the feedback, let it sit for a while. It’s no good trying to understand and implement feedback if you’re feeling sensitive. A few days or a few weeks usually works, because it gives you time to reflect. Then you can come back to the critique with a calmer head and see what clicks.
If you’re not sure about something or it feels vague, ask! Open up a discussion with the person giving you the feedback (without getting defensive or arguing). Bouncing ideas off someone else is only ever a good thing, as it can lead to solutions. Being open-minded and receptive to criticism and change is part of what makes a successful writing career, and it’s a great way of dealing with feedback.
Keep a list and check for common threads
Keeping a list of feedback is particularly helpful if you’re getting feedback from multiple people. Note down all the things people are saying about your work, organised by category. So you might have:
- Writing style
I also find it useful to colour code feedback – if something is cropping up again and again amongst different people, then it’s clearly an issue and you can mark it in red. If only one person has a criticism about something, it might not be a huge problem, and you can mark it in a cooler colour like blue or green, and decide what to do with it later. Having a list also means that you can tick things off as resolved while you’re working on revisions.
Get feedback on revised drafts
If you take someone’s feedback on board, it’s useful to have them read revised drafts, if they’re willing or able to. That way, they can let you know if they think the work has improved and if you’ve addressed any of the problems they noticed. Having someone read your revisions is also a great confidence booster – you’ll both likely notice how much your work and your writing has improved. You’ll also be developing a trusting relationship, so it’s a win-win!
Those are all my tips for dealing with feedback on your writing! I use most of them myself when I finish a writing project and send it to my agent or critique partners. If you have any other tips, I’d love to hear them!
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