No one likes getting negative feedback. It brings up all sorts of unwanted feelings — like frustration and confusion; disappointment and doubt. But behind every piece of negative feedback is truly a set of good intentions. People really are trying to help — some are good at it, while others, well, aren’t. Regardless, you’ll tend to go through different stages while reacting to and acting on negative feedback. Here’s what they are, how you’re going to feel during each of them, and how to handle it all.
Stage 1 – Disbelief, Probably Frustration, 87% Chance of Elevated Self-Doubt
How could your baby, your masterpiece, receive such devastating feedback? It deserves better than that. These are the kinds of thoughts that immediately burn through your mind when you review unexpectedly negative feedback. That’s why it’s important to NEVER respond immediately to edits. If you’re frustrated, you’re going to come off the wrong way, even if you don’t mean to.
During this stage you’re going to feel: Disappointed. This is completely normal, and you have a right to be. It can be hurtful, learning that something you felt really good about wasn’t as good as you thought. So the best thing to do here is step away from the project for a little while. Even a few hours can make a difference. Come back to it with a willingness to review the feedback carefully and separate your personal feelings from the task at hand.
Stage 2 – Going Back In
You’ve had a break. Now it’s time to go back and really take that feedback seriously. Don’t look at it as a personal attack, or commentary on your writing skills as a whole. The purpose of negative feedback isn’t to tell you all the things you’re doing wrong. It’s to help you learn what you could be doing better, by giving you the chance to go through it again — with some guidelines to help you navigate the terrain.
During this stage you’re going to feel: Apprehensive. It’s not fun opening up a finished draft knowing you’re going to have to pick apart your work and somehow put it back together again — but better this time. But honestly, it’s not so bad once you actually jump in. You might even start to enjoy yourself. Coming back with a new perspective, you might start to see how much sense that feedback actually makes in hindsight.
Stage 3 – Making Changes and/or Understanding Mistakes
This is the active stage of the process — when you actually start making changes, once you’ve finished reading through edits. It sometimes feels uncomfortable venturing back into a story you know and love and shaping it into something slightly different, but it doesn’t take long to get over that. This is simply part of the process, and once it’s over, it’s easier to see how important it was that you took the time to do it.
During this stage you’re going to feel: Better. Not great, but better. It turns out you’re not actually a terrible writer after all — you just have some more work to do. No writer finishes one draft and turns it in with zero mistakes. You didn’t do a bad job. Negative feedback just means there is room for improvement. Follow the suggestions and see your mistakes not as failures, but examples to learn from.
Stage 4 – Knowing How to Do Better Next Time
These are the lightbulb moments, the moments when you can look back and say, “Okay, I get it now.” The next time you write something, you’ll remember the things you’ve learned — and even more importantly, you’ll be able to apply them to the work you do from this point forward.
During this stage you’re going to feel: Hopeful. This is the stage you come to the full realization that negative feedback isn’t always bad. It’s what helps many writers make necessary changes and improvements to produce better content in the future. An editor will ALWAYS find something in your writing that they want you to work on. It’s literally their job. The more feedback and suggestions you get, the more chances you have to publish a better piece of writing in the end.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.