You’re not alone if you’re worried about receiving feedback on your writing. After all, it’s unlikely anyone else will have seen what you’ve written since you started this journey, so letting someone read your work can feel daunting. Maybe it makes you feel sick to your stomach.
What if it didn’t have to be so stomach-churning? What if there was a way to approach feedback from an editor, beta readers or your mum in a way that makes you feel more comfortable? I’ve got some advice to help you.
Receiving feedback on your writing
Studies show that when we receive feedback, it increases our heart rate to the level of moderate/extreme duress, particularly when we receive spontaneous feedback we’re not prepared for. But even when we know it’s coming, our stress levels rise.
Our cortisol levels rise because we perceive feedback as a threat. In turn, this makes our heart rate rise. Adrenaline is also produced due to the fight/flight/freeze response. Cue dry mouth, sweaty palms and pulse rate to rival an Olympic sprinter.
I share this with you to help you see that your response to feedback is your body’s natural response to fear or uncertainty. It comes back to that part of our brain that’s still stuck in the stone age, fearing an attack from a saber-tooth tiger. And unless your editor likes to dress up for feedback sessions, it’s a very irrational response.
So what can you do about it? Here’s what the research says.
Managing your response to feedback starts with mindset
“There is no failure, only feedback.”
Other than book reviews, it’s unlikely you’ll be entirely unprepared for feedback on your writing. Be it a session with an editor or your beta readers sharing their thoughts; you’ll have asked for their input, so you shouldn’t be under a surprise ‘attack’. As with most things, how you manage this comes down to mindset and preparation.
Firstly, and before you read/hear any feedback, it’s time to be honest with yourself. How do you usually react to hearing someone’s view on something you’ve produced? What stories do you tell yourself about your writing? What limiting beliefs rear their ugly heads? Jot answers to these down to help raise your self-awareness.
It’s crucial – and this is the tricky bit – not to take things personally. It’s not you that they’re commenting on. It’s a piece of writing.
And yes, I get it. It feels personal because you’ve written it but seeing it just as a piece of work that can improve will hopefully take any sting out of it. So if you know you get defensive, acknowledge that and then find some simple strategies to manage this. It could be mantras, or it could be slow, mindful breathing. Awareness is the first step.
Adopting a growth mindset is the key to getting the most out of writing feedback. Avoid being ‘fixed’ in how you perceive your work to be. If you’ve asked for feedback, you must be open to receiving other people’s opinions. You might love a particular bit, yet other people don’t think it works. It’s just part of the creative process and their perception.
Listening to feedback on your writing
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Listening is a skill, and it’s something we all have to learn and practise. It’s even harder when it’s something you’ve put your heart and soul into, and you’re listening to people’s views on it. But listening well will only improve your writing.
Before any verbal feedback, take the time to read through reports/emails twice – the first time is just to get a general overview, and the second time is to take in what’s being said. I like to print out any feedback I get and then grab a highlighter to pull out any key information I’d like further clarity on. I’ll jot specific questions down too.
Once you’ve got a call booked to discuss it, here’s the best way to approach it:
Listen first – try not to jump in and interrupt the person feeding back to you. Instead, jot down questions you think of as you go, so you can then ask them when they’ve said their bit. Use active listening skills, such as repeating what you’ve heard for clarity.
Be specific with your questions – the better the question, the better the response. Don’t be afraid to seek clarity or ask follow-up questions, either. Only then can you take the best steps forward.
Be aware of your tone of voice and body language – they can give away more than you think! Remember, the person giving you feedback is doing something you’ve asked them to do – and is human!
If you want to disagree, state where you agree with them first – find some common ground – and then talk about any parts you don’t agree with
Say thank you! Even if the feedback wasn’t what you hoped or expected, thank them for their thoughts and professional opinion.
Establish if you can follow up again with them – establish boundaries with this, so you’re not bombarding them afterwards! Be respectful of their time and energy!
Once your feedback session is over, take some time to reflect on what was said. Be sure to jot down the positives too. – and there will be some! We’re hardwired to remember negative feedback more than positive, so celebrate what went well.
And finally, remember to trust their experience and judgment – particularly if it’s editorial feedback. Editors want your work to be as brilliant as possible for two reasons. One, they care about your success, and two, their reputation is on the line! In addition, they likely see a lot of manuscripts; therefore, they know what works. Of course, you don’t have to take on their suggestions if you’re self-publishing, but it’s worth considering their expertise before ignoring their advice!
Feedback on your writing is crucial to make your book as professional and polished as possible. But more than that, it will enhance your work and help you create a book you can feel proud of.
Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well – Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen
Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High – Joseph Grenny et al.
Principles: Life and Work – Ray Dalio
If you’d like some feedback on your manuscript or even just on your book idea, get in touch, and we can discuss ways I can help you.