How to Receive Feedback

We’ve talked about When to Give Feedback, How to Give Feedback, now let’s talk about how to receive it. Out of all three, this is the hardest, but a necessity on the path to improvement.

We learn so much from feedback. But it’s not always natural at first. I’ve seen several people in critique groups refuse to accept feedback. They argue and say things like, “You just don’t get what I’m trying to do.” As if, it’s the reader’s fault they didn’t get it. Or they say things like, “This is my story I’ll write it how I want to,” totally disregarding their audience.

In order to get something from feedback, you have to be open to it. However, that doesn’t mean that all feedback is useful. There will be times to ignore the advice given. Here is my take on how to receive feedback and make it useful.

Be open.

It’s okay if you’re not ready for feedback all the time. But in order to get anything out of it, you need to find a time to be able to hear it in a meaningful way.

Distance can help with objectivity. Take a break after you’ve finished proofing before seeking feedback.

Schedule a time to read or hear the feedback during a time when you’re not down on yourself. Mood definitely matters. Try giving yourself pep talks and getting/reading the positive feedback first. Remember the criticism isn’t about you. It’s about making your work land with the reader better.

Listen to understand.

Once you’re open, the next thing is to hear the person out on what they are telling you. Listen to understand rather than to defend. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. But making a decision to take the suggestion or ignore it without understanding why it matters to the story is like driving a car at twilight with no headlights on.

Listen between the lines too. Not all critiques will be able to put their feedback into actionable items.

Communicate the type of feedback you are looking for.

When you seek out the critique in the beginning, be clear with what you are looking for. If you’re someone who does ten revisions, but right now you’re on three and only want high-level feedback, let it be known. If you need copy or line editing let them know that too. Set the expectations upfront.

If possible, ask for in-person feedback.

Written feedback is helpful because you can go through and check off the comments as you work through them. Combining that with in-person feedback takes it up a notch.

Years ago, I asked a journalist I worked with to critique a story I wrote. After he read it, we went for coffee. I can’t tell you how beneficial listening to his explanations was. He wrote them down too, so I could go back, but hearing him go through them was like taking a writing class.

Another advantage of in-person feedback is that it’s harder to brush aside compliments when someone says them directly to your face. It just feels nice. And if done right, also feels professional. Plus, knowing someone took the time to read your work and make notes to help you is rewarding—and motivating.

If you get the chance, take it, and Remember to buy your friend coffee if they did it for free.

You don’t have to incorporate every peice of feedback.

Your novel is your novel. After listening and considering how to incorporate the feedback, if it doesn’t fit with what you’re trying to do, you can choose not to take make changes.

Or you change something else that makes the suggestion unnecessary. There are so many options. Your role is to listen, understand and think creatively and critically. Take what you can use and discard the rest.

Don’t take feedback personally.

Acknowledging there’s room for improvement, doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer. There are very few things that are done perfectly the first time, especially something as big as a novel. Think of this as part of the process. You’re molding an idea into shape and it’s going to need smoothing out here and there.

Plus, a lot of feedback has to do with interpretation. Everyone reads things differently. We have our own tastes and sometimes some text jumps out at us while others don’t.

And consider, if your reader is a friend, they’re probably doing this because they believe in you. Thank them and be glad they gave you their time.

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