Every writer knows just how crucial feedback is to the process of creating a great story. Because authors cannot exist in the vacuum of only their own thoughts, at some point they know that other smart voices must enter the mix. Yet many of us are reluctant to seek input and advice from others—in fact, some of us fear and avoid it at all costs. Why? Because it makes us feel as if we’ve done something wrong or aren’t smart enough to see things clearly. Or perhaps we’ve been burned by someone’s harsh words in the past and never want to go through that again.
Since everyone can benefit from other people and their viewpoints, being open and understanding how to give and receive feedback is step one. There’s an art to it, and all great writers know just how to do it. So, whether you’re the giver or receiver, adopting these five writing world techniques will overcome any hesitation you may have and amplify your success:
MAKE IT ABOUT THE WORK
Whether it’s in a group like a writer’s workshop or writer’s room—or one-on-one with a developmental editor or early reader—every single book has received constructive criticism along the way. Because one writer is always in need of another, they are generous with their time and talent. And their number one feedback goal is simple—to make the work better. That’s it. It’s a positive, forward-facing, work-enhancing goal that puts continuous improvement first.
A writer’s feedback unfailingly begins with the positive: the threads that resonate, the insight that’s profound, the lines that are beautifully finessed. Then, with the elevate-the-work goal in mind, writers offer some possibilities to consider: could you go deeper here … what if … have you considered … explain this confusing part … and on and on. So, give and receive feedback like a writer and you will create a valuable exchange.
SEEK CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM
These days criticism might not come from your boss or your colleagues—it can emanate from opinionated strangers who say anything on social media. We all learn that you can’t please everyone and that some will actively dislike you and/or your work. Writers are no strangers to this phenomenon—when they put their work out into the world, reviews always follow, and many are unkind and unproductive.
So, the feedback keyword here is constructive. Seek a critique only from someone who you respect and admire. Just like an author whose editor provides manuscript guidance, find an expert voice whose assessment you will heed. Then listen as they reality-check your views and add some perspective of their own.
UNCOVER YOUR BLIND SPOTS
One of the biggest advantages of external feedback is that it helps to keep us on track, and we all need that. Why? Because our own fears and insecurities can sometimes make us unreliable narrators of our own stories. It’s common to weave storylines in our heads that put us and our ideas entirely in the right—but we may not be seeing things clearly. Feedback can open you up to what you cannot yet see.
Writers purposely give their characters emotional blind spots to keep things interesting, and all of us have something that is obstructed from our view. So at work, it’s important to discover what yours are or they will keep tripping you up. Blind spots manifest when we shut out experiences or feelings that we find uncomfortable. Since awareness is key, listen to someone else’s feedback without judgment or defensiveness to learn what you might be missing about yourself. Getting at what is obscured from your normal view through enlightening feedback will help you now and down the road.
NEVER TAKE IT PERSONALLY
Everyone co-worker is on their own journey with their own agenda. So when someone gives you harsh criticism—especially when it’s unsolicited—it truly is more about them. Whatever is happening, learn from it and keep one enduring rule in mind: never take it personally.
This sort of emotional immunity might seem unrealistic because often things don’t simply feel personal—they are personal (like that colleague who might be undermining the project you’ve been spearheading). Still, if you lose sight of the fact that their behavior stems from their own issues, you are giving them the power to hijack your work story. Instead, try to distance yourself by adopting a writer’s observer POV, learn if there’s an aspect that you do need to ponder, but don’t take it personally. Doing so is akin to handing your narrative over to someone else.
BE REALISTIC & DISCERNING
Once you absorb and process the feedback you’ve received, you are in control of what happens next. You need to decide for yourself what resonates, what to incorporate, and what to put aside. Not every seed someone else plants is destined to grow, so it’s up to you to separate the wheat from the chaff in a way that suits what you’re working on.
Always remember that another person’s feedback is their own subjective perception, and some—or all—of what they say may not be relevant for you now. So, let it percolate and then use what makes sense to you. Trust your gut and edit the feedback to make the end result better and remain in control of your work story.
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Deborah Burns’ story has always been about invention and reinvention. She’s lived those two keywords throughout her career as a women’s media Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), a leader of brands like ELLE Décor and Metropolitan Home, an industry consultant and throughout a creative pivot that led to the award-winning memoir, “Saturday’s Child.”
The experience of becoming an author illuminated the path to her second book, “Authorize It! Think Like a Writer to Win at Work & Life.” Now, Deborah combines her business and creative expertise in professional development workshops that improve outcomes and help everyone invent, reinvent and live up to their career potential.