What we do with the feedback we receive is more critical than we realize. Often we hear statements like, “Weigh it all, but ultimately make the changes you think are necessary” or “Feedback is subjective so don’t rush to change anything.”
There are truths to these kinds of statements. But I think too often writers use them as an excuse to take the sting out of tough criticism. We want to find some way to make ourselves feel better and so we brush aside the especially hard comments, categorizing them as someone else’s “take-it-or-leave opinion.”
If we classify feedback as “subjective” then that often lets us off the hook from having to make significant changes. After all, we’ve spent months working on our book. Who else could possibly know the masterpiece better than the artist herself?
With the plethora of feedback we’re sure to receive over the course of our writing careers, how can we get a grip on handling feedback in a way that will help us the most?
At this point in my writing career, here’s my approach: The unpleasant constructive criticism is like broccoli—I swallow and digest it, knowing the leafy florets will nurture me and make me stronger. The pleasant affirming feedback is like bubble gum—I chew it, enjoy the flavor, but eventually spit it out, knowing too much can rot my teeth.
Broccoli: The unpleasant constructive criticism
I’m not talking about mean-spirited, lambasting, you-stink kind of criticism. No one ever deserves rotting food. Constructive criticism, however, can and will often hurt and may even bring us to tears.
When I got my substantive edits on The Preacher’s Bride, initially I fell into despair, shed a few tears, and basically had a pity party for myself. I could have ranted and raged about how unfair it was to have to make so many changes. Some of the changes were in fact “subjective,” things Bethany House wanted me to adjust to meet the needs of their faithful readers.
Instead of tossing aside the feedback, I mulled it over, digested every comment, and tried to find the value behind every suggestion. Someone, somewhere had a good reason for each one, and I tried to understand what they saw. In other words, I made myself eat those green vegetables. In doing so, I strengthened my writing muscles and nurtured my story.
Did I make every single change? No. But I made myself have a very good reason before rejecting the suggestion.
Bubble Gum: The pleasant, affirming feedback
Who doesn’t like uplifting words of praise—whether on our stories, blog posts, or anything we’re writing? We all need a taste of sweetness from time to time.
I have to admit, I crave positive feedback about my writing. I like to know my words are making an impact in one way or another. Sometimes I get really nice comments from blog readers about how a post helped them. And someday I hope I get feedback from readers about how my stories touched them.
But praise is like bubblegum. It’s delicious for a little while, but then it loses its flavor and we have to spit it out. In other words, I take in the praise, savor the compliment, but then eventually put it off to the side and get back to work. Bubblegum won’t ever fill me up and give me the strength to keep going. In fact too much can even rot me with pride.
So what do I typically do? I chew up my gum and spit it out. Then I head back to the broccoli—the tough feedback—the stuff that will really help me grow.
Even if I don’t particularly like veggies, they're apt to make me a much healthier and stronger writer than the sweets ever could.
What about you? Which do crave more, the bubblegum or the broccoli? Are you forcing yourself to take in the hard feedback? Do you make sure you have a very good reason before rejecting it?