Feedback provides us with an opportunity to learn from and improve on our mistakes. Learning to take criticism with grace and positivity is an essential skill for writers.
Building Your Feedback Skills
First off, it’s okay if you aren’t perfect at taking feedback. I’ve spent the last few years building up a thick skin for constructive criticism and I still feel the burn sometimes when I ask for critique. The defensive monster at the back of my mind pokes her head out to say “noo, my work is great, how dare you!?” but I push her back into her cave after letting her rage for a minute or two. Here are some ways you can work on building your skills so you can make feedback work for you.
Don’t make excuses
It’s okay to explain why you wrote something a particular way if you have a strong reason for doing it, but don’t give your critique partner or editor a bunch of excuses. If you find yourself constantly explaining why you did something, what you’re really saying is that your work can not stand by itself and that you have to explain it. That alone is enough for you to do a re-write.
React, but don’t respond right away.
As I said above, I still get defensive of my work sometimes, even with critique partners and editors I’ve worked with for YEARS. These folks know me and they know my writing, but it still stings sometimes. I don’t tell them that it stings or let my defensiveness leak through.
I give myself a few hours to process the sting and then I go back in and try to look at the feedback constructively.
Take the feedback and make edits.
Read through the feedback carefully and do your best to use it as a tool to improve both the current piece your working on and future work. You might find that you actually really love the feedback once you’ve incorporated it and strengthened your writing.
Be Aware of What Constructive Criticism looks like
I used to be a teacher and during my undergraduate program, I learned some really vital things about feedback. For every 1 negative we give a young student, we need to give them 4 positive and specific points of feedback. I don’t use that exact ratio when I do editing work, but I do try to provide them with both constructive negative criticism AND specific positive feedback.
If you have ever had someone edit your work and just tear it apart, without telling you that you did anything right, you know how hard it is to take that person’s advice. It’s important to be able to discern when feedback is constructive and when it is just overly negative or critical. If you feel like a feedback partner/editor isn’t giving you helpful notes and doesn’t get your vision, it’s okay to look for a new feedback partner or hire a new editor.
A good feedback partner or editor should help build you up, not just tear you down.
Also, don’t take unsolicited feedback from someone you would not ask for advice from. If you’re in a workshop setting and you know a writer there is not someone who’s advice you really want, it’s okay to take their feedback with a grain of salt.
Giving Feedback Helps You Become A Better Writer
Giving feedback to others also helps you improve your own writing. Figuring what is and isn’t’ working for others can help you problem solve your own writing issues. It can also help you gain a deeper understanding of good dialogue, good plot and more!