You Might Be Craving Feedback You Don’t Actually Need

What are you doing wrong? Maybe you already have the answer.

One of the most frustrating things about being a “small” creator is that even when you aren’t getting any feedback on your work, you have to keep working.

Sometimes I will publish a blog post that will absolutely tank, and other than low numbers and a lack of engagement, I have absolutely no way of knowing that this is the case — but I especially don’t have any clue whatsoever as to why that particular post performed terribly in comparison to others.

I never know if it’s a weird glitch in the system, a bad headline, or uninteresting content. I never know if it’s my writing or meta data or the photo I chose to appear as the featured preview image.

It could be all of these things. It could be none of these things. It could just be people chose that particular day not to click on my blog post for no reason other than they had other things to do (which, for the record, I totally understand — I, too, am familiar with busyness).

Not knowing exactly what went wrong — and this does happen at least once per month at this point, if not more — doesn’t feel great. It doesn’t make me want to stop blogging or consider rethinking my entire model for how I run things here, but it does make me question, in more detail, what I could have done differently — if I could have done something differently at all.

As a small creator, you don’t get hundreds of thousands of comments on your posts complaining about a misstep or praising what has been done well. Most of the people who do read and find your content helpful don’t let you know — not because they don’t want to be helpful, but because some people just aren’t interested in engaging with online content — and this is totally fine. I don’t blame them. The internet is … quite something sometimes.

But there is actually an extremely important reason why I don’t push harder to get more specific feedback from all of you reading this blog. I could send out surveys, I could call for suggestions, I could straight up ask you all what you want to see more or less of from these posts.

I won’t, though — not extensively. Because as much as I often feel like I need more feedback in order to continue moving forward, that’s not always the best or most effective way to shift and improve the work that I am doing.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting or even asking for feedback — I want to be clear about that. Feedback is something all writers do need on an individual level at some point. In the earliest stages of your hobby and/or career, however, that’s not always going to be an option for you.

And maybe — just hear me out here — maybe that’s actually for the best.

Why do writers want feedback — sometimes desperately? Because some people thrive on external accountability. They need to be told they are doing a good job in order to continue doing a good job. These are the people who are most frustrated when notes back from publications and/or editors are generic and unhelpful. Am I doing good? Or not? How am I supposed to know?

I am, at least I was, one of these people. So I’m definitely not judging. When I started at the company I currently work for, I found myself almost completely lost in my first full-time writing job despite the fact that I had been writing for websites for years before I was hired. I constantly asked my editor for feedback. I would get nervous whenever she had “nothing good” to say (which really, it turns out, usually translates to “no feedback is good feedback” in the world of online publishing.

Most significantly, I realized how much confidence I lacked when I wasn’t being praised. It’s not that I was doing the work to be praised. But I worried that if there wasn’t anyone telling me I was doing a good job, I was doing something wrong. I have since learned that this is (again, usually) not the case.

However, working at a large (ish) company does mean that I get specific feedback when things are not going well. Unlike this blog, for instance, which leaves me clueless more often than I would like to admit.

What I am learning more and more as I continue to publish despite my uncertainty — because, let’s be real here, the show must go on — is that often, the answers you are looking for (“Why didn’t this post do well? What am I doing wrong? What am I missing?) are right in front of you. Or they will be, if you take the time required to discover them.

On this blog, for example, one post not doing well probably doesn’t mean much. But it’s very likely that any post that hasn’t done well over the past two months probably holds some kind of truth related to writing quality or a headline or even a particular topic area.

So guess what? Figuring out what will most likely not perform well on my blog requires some data analysis and critical thinking. Maybe posts about self-care don’t belong here. That would be obvious if I looked at my lowest-performing posts over the past three months and saw that all of them were about self-care.

It’s not always that simple, but you get the idea.

The thing about having to do this kind of analysis and thinking is that it’s actually requiring me to put in the time and effort to learn how to improve my writing and the topics I choose to write about. This is not a skill you should dismiss as unimportant.

And it’s not always related to concrete numbers and data, either. Maybe the reason you’re not getting selected as a contributing writer for a publication is because you don’t actually have a real interest in the subject matter: You’re just looking for an excuse to get your name out there.

When other people give us feedback, we have no incentive to look inside ourselves for the real reasons we aren’t getting the results we want. When the answers are handed to us, we are so much less likely to retain the information we are supposed to take and store away for later use.

I understand how intimidating and overwhelming writing can feel when you aren’t being told whether or not you are doing something right or wrong. And there are many cases where it is both possible and acceptable to ask for and receive individualized feedback on your work.

But don’t underestimate your own ability to problem-solve and remain fully honest with yourself. It is something that has helped me tremendously at my day job, and will hopefully continue to help me create better content for all of you on this blog.

All this being said, if there is ever anything specific you want me to address — like a specific question you have about writing or productivity or the creative process — don’t hesitate to reach out here. That’s not me asking for feedback. I really do want to be a helpful resource for you, though. So even if you don’t usually speak up, don’t be shy. I’m always looking for different ways to approach topics and new ways to help.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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