Accepting Feedback

StudygroupPhotoI used to dread receiving feedback about my writing. Being in a writing workshop stressed me out, and there were times when I dissociated and missed what was said or asked about my writing. Some writers react defensively to feedback. Others become angry as well. I finally learned from a screenwriting teacher under what conditions feedback is best received and how I could learn from it and improve my writing.

Years ago, I took a screenwriting class in order to learn how to write a screenplay of a novel I’d written. The teacher, Steven Larson, had extensive experience writing screenplays and had won awards. From the first day, he created a positive atmosphere in the class by focusing on the writing, and insisting that when we gave feedback, we talk about things the writer did right as well as the things that needed work. So, there were no comments about a writer’s intelligence, a writer’s talent, a writer’s personality or anything else about the writer personally. I learned a lot in that class that has helped me in writing all kinds of prose, not just screenplays.


I also learned how best to receive feedback, at least for me. Over the years, I’ve developed my own list of things I need to do in preparation and while receiving the feedback.  Having this list keeps me calm and focused so I can take in what the readers of my writing have to say.

  • When I give out my writing to be read and critiqued, I include a list of things that I want the readers to watch for as they read. I make some of it specific, but I also include requests for general thoughts on structure, character, etc. By doing this, I have an idea what the readers will talk about during the critique as well as finding out what I want to know from them.
  • When I prepare for the group critique, or one by an individual reader in person, I first make certain that I have a full pad of paper and at least 2 pens to take notes.
  • I re-read what I’ve submitted for critique, noting any problems that I’ve spotted on each page. It really helps to refresh my mind with what I wrote.
  • At the beginning of the critique, I let the reader(s) know that I will not be talking during their critique, except to ask questions for clarification. I tell them that I’ll be taking notes and listening closely to what they have to say.  Then I thank them for their feedback.
  • During the critique, I take notes. I do not react in any way, keeping my expression open but dispassionate. If I don’t understand a comment, I’ll ask for clarification. Staying silent can be the most difficult part of a critique.  Of course, I want to clarify things, except, it’s important to know that the readers didn’t understand something. That’s a clue that I need to make that part clearer. This is also not an appropriate time to defend anything.  It is the time to listen well, make notes, and plan for the revision process.
  • When the critique is done, I thank my readers for their time and thoughtful reading, and for their helpful, constructive feedback about my writing. I’ll ask them if they have any questions at this time.  Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.  I try to answer honestly but without going into a lot of detail about my notes or my plans for revision.
  • After the critique, when I’m home and at my desk, I’ll go through my notes once, sometimes write more notes, then I put them away for at least a week before going through them again with the writing that was critiqued. I wait at least a week to let my imagination mull over what was said during the critique.  I’ve learned that if I don’t wait, I’ll get stuck during the revision process.  If I wait, my mind is ready and eager to get to work, and the revision process will go better.

It’s important to go into a critique truly believing that the people you’ve trusted with your writing will want to help you make your writing better.  Approaching the process from the beginning with a positive framework and then refusing to be defensive or get angry will go a long way toward insuring that you’ll be able to accept the feedback in the spirit that it was given, and to use it to help you improve your writing.  I’ve used this process while working with the editor of Perceval’s Secret before its e-publication.



Remember, the goal of a critique is to have fresh, intelligent eyes read your writing and for a reader to provide feedback to help you make your writing better.


7 responses to “Accepting Feedback

  1. Reblogged this on Yager Editing Services and commented:

    When you’re working with an editor, it’s important to choose one who you feel comfortable with and that you can see wants to help you make your writing better. After choosing your editor, it’s up to you as the writer to give your editor guidelines for her or his reading, although a good editor will usually ask for them. Be as specific as you can about those things that bother you the most. For example, if you feel unsure about writing dialogue, you might ask your editor to read for natural dialogue and point out to you the places where it doesn’t work. General requests can involve narrative structure, character development, and plot. After your editor has read your writing and is ready to meet with you, it’s time to think about how best to accept feedback.

    Here’s a blog post I’ve written about accepting feedback:

  2. Accepting feedback is quite a talent and requirement to improve as a writer. Thanks for this post, Cinda!

  3. Solid, spot on remarks. I remember once going to a panel of authors and editors, and it was really interesting to hear them talk about how much they hesitate to give feedback because most don’t receive it well, or realize that the ones providing feedback are doing the author a favor by trying to help them improve their writing.

    I always like to start any feedback project or discussion by asking the author to explain what they hope to achieve. Some want to become strong enough to publish regularly, others write for the sheer fun of it. Knowing where they are on the spectrum helps inform the feedback.

    When receiving feedback, I’ve also adopted the rule to only ask questions, and avoid leading questions. Instead of “do you think it should be shorter” I’ll ask “how do you feel about the length?”

    • Thanks, Adam, for your comments. It sounds like you’ve had some experience with giving and receiving feedback. I have to admit, like you, I’m hesitant to give feedback on manuscripts unless the person understands how the process works and that any feedback is NEVER about them personally. I recently agreed to review a published book and was looking forward to it. But when I began reading it, I could tell on the first page that it hadn’t been edited very well if at all. I read about a quarter of it before I sent the author a note declining to review the book and why. It wasn’t really ready. I could not in good conscience review it or give him feedback on it except that it needed work. It astonished me that it’d been published.

      • I’ve definitely had moments where I wondered why something wasn’t refined more before being published. But then again that can also be a good sign. If we know we can write better than that, we also know there’s a path to publication for us.

      • Thank you for seeing the positive in that really painful experience. Although I know from working with editors myself that my writing can always be improved and polished!

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