Finding the Positive in Negative Feedback

By Erin Kessler

My first FunkyCorp newsletter went through endless revisions. After completing my first draft, I showed it to the team, who thoroughly ripped it apart from multiple angles: grammar, word choice, design, format… And it went on and on over several days. Luckily we had the bandwidth — some downtime after a bunch of major projects had finished, to spend time on perfecting a relatively short newsletter.   

I think of myself as someone who is able to take criticism gracefully. But after a while, I began to feel irritated and a bit defensive. Can it be that bad? Am I a terrible writer?

Now, after a bit of distance, I see that it was a necessary process, and I ultimately learned a ton of things from the experience. I was able to write the next newsletter with more ease, it got approved more quickly, and I became more confident in my abilities again.

At FunkyCorp, we are constantly giving each other feedback on our writing. We write things every day — web pages, guides, blog posts, writing briefs, Instagram posts — and we want to make sure the copy is top notch. We all agree that having a second pair of eyes is invaluable, not only to catch grammatical errors and typos but to make sure the train of thought is logical, clear and concise.

Handling feedback is not always easy. As creative people, we can be sensitive and fragile; even the most well-intentioned comment can sound harsh, making you want to crawl into a cave and give up. But as we all know, writing is a process. Being able to turn criticism into something constructive is an art and a skill that can turn us all into better writers.

To harness negative feedback and turn it into a catalyst for growth, I’ve put together a few tips:

Don’t take it personally

Let go of your ego — remember that the criticism is directed at your writing, not you as a person. If something doesn’t work, it’s not because you’ve failed as a human being; you just need to make some adjustments. And if someone is attacking you as a person, they don’t deserve your attention anyway.

Don’t hear criticism that isn’t there

If someone tells you that your piece uses too many adverbs and is a bit flowery, it doesn’t mean that the whole thing is crap. Sometimes, we may overreact to criticism, taking us down into a rabbit hole of negative thinking. Seeing things for what they are will give you the clarity and the confidence to focus on what you need to change and what you’re doing well.

Ask questions

If there is something you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Don’t waste your time trying to fix something that you don’t know how to correct. Most people are happy to explain in more detail what they mean.

Spot trends in the feedback

Everyone has bad habits, from ingrained grammar mistakes to overused words. Perhaps you’re used to the Chicago Manual of Style, but the publication you’re writing for uses the AP Stylebook. Your writing may be great, but you just haven’t nailed the tone. Whatever the case, if the same comments keep coming up, there’s probably something you need to work on. Keep an open mind and use these trends to better yourself as a writer.  

Take action — triage

When it comes time to make the edits, first take note of which suggestions you completely agree with, which ones you’re on the fence about, and which ones you strongly disagree with. Make the easy edits first, then move on to the ones you’re not so sure about. You may need further research or let the other person’s suggestions sink in. If you feel strongly about a writing choice and you can back it up with reason and evidence, keep it.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Even the most talented writers need editors, so don’t let your inner critic get the better of you. Negative self-talk is sabotaging. But when you let go of being perfect, you’re able to be more productive and learn from your mistakes. Take a deep breath and enjoy the journey. Hopefully, the criticism you’ve been given will help you see things with a fresh perspective and ultimately improve your writing.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about how you handle criticism as a writer. Let us know in the comments below.  

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