What to Do With Positive & Negative Feedback

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?


  1. Broccoli--why waste my time on high praise? Makes me soft. Like exercise, writing demands some pain in order to see results.

  2. I agree with you completely! I do like a little gum to balance out the broccoli aftertaste. :)

  3. I like your analogy, Jody. Everything in moderation, right? I think there's a balance to achieve in getting praise, as well as constructive criticism. If you don't want to grow as a writer, though, why would you be a part of a critique group? To me, it defeats the whole purpose.


  4. I love blowing my bubbles, but I grow more when I have to eat my brocolli. No pain, no gain?


  5. Definitely prefer the 'broccoli' feedback. While I appreciate compliments on my writing (who doesn't?), after awhile I just want someone to be honest and tell me what I need to work on, what they didn't like, etc. That's what makes me grow as a writer. The bubble gum stuff, not so much (it just makes me prideful, anyway).

  6. Bubble gum is 5 pieces for a quarter. Broccoli is priceless. I choose broccoli. Great information. Thanks so much.

  7. I like the broccoli. To me that is the best because it will help me become a stronger writer along with guiding me to writing a stronger story.

  8. My body usually craves brocolli. In this analogy my body is my novel. It craves the feedback to get to where it's supposed to be.

    It's important to do the sifting before writing anything off that doesn't taste delicious at first bite. It matures us to do so.
    ~ Wendy

  9. I think this is one of the best analogies I have ever read on this topic. I am learning to eat my vegetables one plate at a time!

  10. I'm craving some bubble gum right now, even if it loses flavor fast. Great analogy, Jody. I agree, the brocoli will make us stronger. What's the saying? "What doesn't kill us or break us, makes us stronger."

  11. I love analogies! And what's funny is that in real life I love broccoli and hate bubble gum. Did you know that if you add a little sugar to the gum you're chewing it totally breaks apart? Yeah, too much of a good thing ruins it all. In the beginning I needed the "gum" to keep me going. That burst of energy. Now the broccoli is what sustains me. Keeps me going longer. And honestly you're right, about how it will ultimately make our story meaningful and stand the rigors of time and many readers. Thank you for the wonderful reminder and suggestion!

  12. I do agree with you!

    BUT! (I'm the queen of debate, forgive me!) I think where the feedback comes from is important to take into account.

    The Broccoli from an publishing house editor is the most important kind to take. It has the richest vitamins and will help us grow strong. Yes, we should swallow that immediately, ESPECIALLY as new authors.

    Same with broccoli from an agent.

    A professional, well-known published freelance editor is also important to listen to.

    I think where you get to the "subjective" feedback is when you get contest entries back with feedback from judges, or sometimes even crits back from crit partners.

    I LOVE entering contests and I LOVE getting feedback from my crit partners, but they DO tend to be much more subjective, and I think it is important to chew those first to make sure the broccoli hasn't gotten rotten. I still learn a lot, but there are some things that I truly don't work with my story, or are just wrong. that said, I've used plenty of the constructive criticism to make my books better, so I don't devalue them as a whole (which is why I still enter contests!!)

  13. I really enjoyed the post!
    Thanks so much.
    I know we all want the broccoli, but the gum is just so darn delicious!
    and hey, with a little cheese, the broccoli's delicious too!

    Seriously though, I'd rather grow my writing muscles than be able to blow sugary bubbles all day long.

    This helps me look at the broccoli differently, and the gum too. Both are great, but only one will TRULY make me feel better.

  14. Krista said: I think where the feedback comes from is important to take into account.

    My thoughts: I agree, Krista. While we can learn from any and all feedback, we also need to give appropriate weight to the source. We would have to sift through the feedback from someone who is at our skill level or below more than we would writing professionals and those further along in the writing journey.

  15. You are so wise, Jody. And mature.

    I love broccoli. I could eat it every day. But I salt it.

    On the other hand, I swallow my gum.

    What does that say about my need for affirmation? ahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

  16. Oh, I gotta have just a little bubble gum with my broccoli or I'll just wilt away into a puddle of miserable tears. But yes, the broccoli does stick to my ribs a lot longer.

    When I have some broccoli, and it's really bitter, I usually can't finish it all in one setting. So, I hurry up and chew a piece of bubble gum to soothe myself, all the while thinking about that fowl broccoli aftertaste.

    Then, way later down the road, I go back and finish the broccoli, and--wow--it usually doesn't taste so bad that second time; I actually feel a lot more energized afterward, ready to go forth and revise my manuscript.

    But honestly a lot of critiques really are subjection. Two people have read the exact--I mean, EXACT--same excerpt once. One person said "this scene really takes off when you get to the part where he first sees her." The next person: "All that description when he first sees her really bogs down the story and slows this scene down." So...who do I believe?

  17. If your diet is healthy, with lots of broccoli, the bubble gum won't hurt. It's when a body begins to turn to the treat more often that trouble begins.

  18. Fascinating post. It's the bubblegum I'm n ever sure what to do with, how to repond to it.

  19. What a good analogy, Jody. Weighing the legitimacy of the source is helpful, too. I don't think I'll ever get used to that initial sting, but understanding that the criticism isn't about me or my talent helps. If it makes the writing stronger, then that is all the better.

  20. Rachelle is great at being a broccoli agent, yet she always helps it go down better with a little butter and salt. Or cheese sauce. Or ranch dressing.

    Once I get over the initial sting, I LOVE constructive criticism. I love knowing what to do to make something better and then setting out to do it!

  21. Give me broccoli! I'd rather fix the book while I still can because once it's published and out there it's too late. Yeah, I like bubble gum, but too much is hard to chew, rots your teeth, and--like you said--it loses it flavor.

    Great post!

  22. Broccoli is definitely better for us and we get much more out of it.
    I like to try to take the negative feedback into consideration and decide for myself if I agree before jumping in and making changes.

    But everyone once in awhile the bubblegum tastes kind of good. Broccoli is good for us, it helps fortify our bodies, but life has to have some enjoyable moments as well.

  23. Excellent analogy and so true. When it comes to writing I crave praise with a frightening urgency, and I dread negative feedback. Truth be known, I would rather eat broccoli for breakfast than face rejection and/or negative (often snidely pejorative) comments.

    But even praise can ring hollow when your gut tells you that you don't deserve it. I've seen lots of "writers" online who publish a little paragraph (on their blog) replete with banal dialog and third-rate syntax, and fifty people -- inexplicably -- trip over themselves to beg for the first autographed copy of their bestseller.

    I have a smarm detector and if praise rings bogus, I feel patronized and it hurts almost more than criticism ... because it's tantamount to being dismissed ... and dismissed by someone not qualified to truly evaluate your work.

    The single editor who has published my writing is liberal with praise but straight-up with constructive criticism. I cherish her insight although I certainly do not always understand or agree with it.

    And I can certainly relate to crying those bitter tears when the "suggestions" sting. I think that's what hurts the most about being a writer.

    Well ... that and being ignored altogether!

  24. I think the tough stuff is easier to digest when it comes with a little praise. Maybe it's like the promise of sweets that can entice a child to finish his vegetables, but I find that I'm way more willing to consider "negative" feedback if the reader has also gone to the trouble of pointing out the things that work. I guess I want to know that the reader "gets" it (gets ME)as a part of how I evaluate the advice.

    I also think it's important, with feedback, to remember that SO OFTEN a reader knows something isn't working, but their ideas for fixing it aren't always the only way. So I try not to just disregard broccoli suggestions that seem ridiculous, but look to see if maybe what my book *actually* needs some carrots. Or maybe some spinach, like Popeye?

  25. Great post. As an adult compared to when I as a child, I prefer brocolli over bubble gum. (Nice alliteration by the way, Jody) My tastes changed. I got older. But it works the same with the writing too. I'd much rather have the broccoli so I can improve my writing and my story. (Of course, some bubble gum now and then is nice.)

  26. This time last year I would have said give me the bubble gum. Now I am taking my greens like a girl should.
    I like mine crisp and substantial. Feed me constructive critism, I am a big girl now, I can take it. Not overcooked, pappy and with all the goodness drained from it. Harsh, patronising words are not good for my gut.

    In fact I have recently eaten a plateful of goodness. It has turned my writing around.

    Great post!

  27. Excellent analogy (you're great at them!). We all want bubble gum!! But I'm going to say give me a heaping helping of broccoli! I want the long and short of it and I want to get it right! Of course, some cheese sauce could make it go down a bit easier ;)


  28. Such a neat analogy since there's a place for both vitamins and sugar in a diet. I think everyone appreciates encouragement but gushing compliments from biased friends and relatives are empty calories -- tasty, but without lasting nourishment. When I ask for an opinion I always hope I'll get constructive criticism... not just what seems right or wrong but also why and perhaps clues to what changes might make it better.

    If there are multiple people coming up with the same criticism or suggestion I don't think it's something we can ignore, even if it involves a passage we love. Other isolated comments can be evaluated and taken or rejected, depending on the source. An agent or publishing house editor has as much or even more at stake in the success of our work, so I wouldn't want to ignore those comments.

    Writers are a lot like politicians in that we choose to put ourselves in the public eye and thus have to expect to get a diversity of responses to our work. Making it the best it can possibly be before it's published is our best defense, so I'm always willing to eat and digest all the vegetables the menu has to offer.

  29. Love your analogy, Jody. It works well for me.

    When I married my hubby, I learned that broccoli is his all-time favorite veggie. I hadn't eaten much of it growing up, so I'd not acquired a taste for it. However, being a newlywed wife who wanted to make her hubby happy, I fixed it often. Over time, I learned to like it--a lot. It's now my favorite vegetable too.

    The same thing happened with constructive criticism of my writing. When I entered my first contests and began to receive the feedback, I craved the bubble gum comments, those that proved I had at least a modicum of talent. They were easy to take, whereas the broccoli comments were harder to digest. However, over time I've grown to appreciate and--on my good days--even welcome the feedback that pushes me to improve, to stretch myself, to take my stories to a new level.

    I agree with Krista that that we need to consider the source. My awesome agent is one whose input I trust. She knows her stuff. When I received my first set of Revision Notes from her, she provided a bubble gum appetizer, which was nice and felt mighty good. That page of feedback, however, was followed by three more of spot-on broccoli-style suggestions for improving my story, which I'm now working hard to implement. I'll be a stronger writer as a result of "eating my broccoli."

  30. I'm with you, I grow more from tough feedback, but it doesn't mean I like it. I much prefer bubble gum. The yummyer the better. I don't always pay attention to the tough stuff if I feel like someone is wearing their cracky pants when they dispense their feedback. I wear a thick skin and consider the source as well.

  31. I've been away from blog land for a while and it's so nice to see your book! Love the cover.

    I'll eat the broccoli, I've eaten plenty in my day, but a little bubble gum suits me just fine now and then.

  32. This post is SO timely for me (in fact I just posted about submitting my first two chapters to my critique group!). You are so right, we need to chew the gum, spit it out, then head back to the broccoli! I'm going to add a note to my post to check out this post...very wise words! :)

  33. I love this analogy. I've learned that the stronger my reaction to the broccoli, the more nutrition it has to offer. One thing I've found helpful it to apply the feedback, look critically and honestly at both old and new, and then choose the one that best accomplishes the job.

  34. Hi Jody -

    I wouldn't be a happy camper living on broccoli alone. That meal better include some meat and potatoes, a salad, and dessert.

    My Genesis scores and comments gave me a balanced meal. One judge served up veggies seasoned to perfection, another meat and potatoes, and finally one gave me a hunk of chocolate cake.

    Susan :)

  35. I need the veggies! My critique partners are skilled at dolloping butter on to make it taste better. Seriously, my books and writing would sit stagnant without honest feedback. I want to be a good writer, and that means being objective about my work.

  36. Boy, did I need to hear this today. Critique isn't easy, but it's necessary. I'd much rather chew bubble gum than eat broccoli, but we all know which makes us healthier.

  37. I have to take both. I can't hear one without the other. I would like to say it depends on the person offering the words, but it doesn't. It depends on how it's sent. I try to remind myself of this when someone asks me for advice. I just went through this and I've got to say, a plate of broccoli after a plate of bubblegum, totally sucks.

  38. Broccoli is my favorite! Love this metaphor.

  39. Broccoli takes a while to digest. But it's worth it!

  40. Yeah, I am not a massive fan of broccoli. But man cannot live by gum alone :)

  41. Brilliant post! If your book is half as good as this blog, you will be super-famous overnight! Why, you are probably the best writer ever!

    I like a mix, but then, I'm not far into the process of my first book. I haven't had but a handful of critiques on excerpts. I like to hear what doesn't work with others, but I also like at least a small pat. Hopefully, the further along I go, the less important my ego will be.

  42. Jody, that balance is so important, isn't it? To not get too into the bubblegum that our mouths tire and we never get any of the good vitamins we need from the veggies. Either way, I can see myself sinking my teeth into this line of thinking. :)

  43. Both broccoli and bubblegum are crucial to our growth as writers...broccoli makes us tough and bubblegum encourages us. But too much of both can ruin our health: too much broccoli and we can get dejected,too much bubblegum and we can develop a false sense of our selfworth. A balance is needed.

  44. Funny. In my adult years I've grown to hate bubble gum & love broccoli. But that doesn't mean I can handle criticism. I'm with ya!

  45. Funny - I wrote about this same topic on my blog today based upon my experience at the Big Sur in the Rockies conference. We know critical feedback is good for us, but it's so often hard to stomach. The best advice on critiques there was, "pretend everything is true for two weeks." Sounds to me a lot like the broccoli approach! :-)

    P.S. I used a boxing metaphor in mine... lol!

  46. Right now I'm craving more constructive criticism to tell me where I'm going wrong and perhaps highlight where I can improve. I get enough "yay that's great" from friends and family ;)

  47. My philosophy is much the same as yours. I love the praise, but it's the constructive criticism that pushes me and forces me to grow as a writer. When we ask other people to read out work, we have to be prepared to hear things we don't necessarily want to hear. But ultimately, I think it makes the story stronger and better.

  48. Since I love broccoli, it's a strange comparison... *g*

    When I get feedback on my writing, I try to understand why the other person thinks this thing needs changing. In many cases, I agree. If I am not sure, I ask a 2nd person. (E.g. when a short story of mine was published, the editor asked for some changes in grammar, and since I am not a native speaker, I turned to an English teacher I know for advise, and then made the changes.)

    If, after considering and 2nd opinion, I am still convinced of what I wrote, I may leave it as it was. But I have good readers and trust them most of the time.

  49. Great illustration Jody. Thanks! I love broccoli, especially seasoned with a little garlic salt. Makes it more palatable. Words seasoned with grace are also easier to digest.

    I've seen a quote a few times this past month. I think it's from Bonnie Hunt and it goes something like this: "We must not let criticism go to our heart. We must not let praise go to our head."


  50. As always, a thoughtful, well written and helpful post. Thank you Jody.

    Oh, I gave you a mention on Middle Passages today.

  51. Jody,
    Great post. I am a big fan of broccoli. Strange as it might sound, I love a tough critique because I know it's helping me improve as a writer.

    Unfortunately writing is an area where one needs to eat a lot of broccoli...and spinach...and brussel sprouts.

    Blessings to you,

  52. Bless your heart, Jody. Between one of my Genesis scoresheets and two rejection letters, this has been a hard week for me as a writer. Luckily, there's also been good, constructive feedback, too. Thank you thank you thank you for posting a blog I really needed to hear this week!

  53. Jody, this was so right on! Thank you for sharing! My favorite part after your comparison to the necessary nurturing-the-roots broccoli is this:

    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?

    how true this is, that is exactly how my first writing project had to go before it could polish up nicely! I just didn't want to face up to it, so I had to fall down hard first, get up and rework it! Almost there!

    Your blog notes are very helpful and grounding as a writer.

    Thanks, Jody!
    ~xx Jenn

  54. Actually, I'm not a huge fan of chewing gum. Although, it is fun to blow a big bubble once in a while. We need the sweet reward, but you're right, you can't live on bubble gum. On the other hand, too much broccoli gives me gas. A little intake of each, daily, would be the best. Write on!

  55. I do like a little gum to balance out the broccoli aftertaste.
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