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Dealing With Feedback

John Nicholas
John Nicholas
3 min read
Dealing With Feedback
Photo by Lala Azizli / Unsplash

Feedback is an important part of the writing process, but it can also be disheartening when you've laboured over a piece and it gets picked apart. While feedback is a valuable input for your writing, it shouldn’t hold you back from the ultimate goal, which is to publish your work.

Earlier this year, I submitted a draft of my essay on Increasing Your Luck Surface Area for feedback.

I spent 10 hours crafting the essay, trying to make it look perfect. I expected the feedback to be along the lines of "oh my god - this is mind blowing - you're amazing", but it was more like "fix this and fix that and I'm not sure about this", which was disheartening.

After a mini-meltdown, I picked myself up, went back to the piece and spent another 15 hours fixing things.

I was happy with the end result. The comments and suggestions improved the piece. At the same time, I realized feedback could derail me too much. I had to change my approach. I had to give a bit less of a f*ck when receiving negative reviews.

Here is my approach to seeking and dealing with feedback:

1. Atomic feedback

Early in the writing process, after a rough first draft, I ask a reviewer if the overall idea makes sense. I ask them to look for things like the shiny dime and the tone of the piece. They can ignore the grammar and the flow. I will fix that later.

In this way, I get feedback before I have invested a lot of time and become emotionally attached to the piece. I get an early indication if I'm on the right track plus some additional ideas (bonus!).

2. Write and detach

After submitting an essay for feedback, I 'walk away' from it. I take a break for a day to work on one of my other projects. When I come back, I am one step removed from the essay. I can view the comments for what they are – suggestions to improve the piece, not personal attacks.

Don't get too attached to your essay. You are not defined by the ideas you put down on paper. By detaching, you are more objective when receiving feedback. You are able to change your mind. You are able to 'kill your darlings' - deleting the parts that don't add to the overall idea. Most importantly, you are able to make your piece stronger.

3. Completion over perfection

Not every musician produces only good tracks. Not every artist goes on to paint only masterpieces. So too, not all your essays are going to be bangers.

There are many duds in between, but by continuing to write and by continuing to publish, you allow the good essays to emerge over time.

Hit send on your not-perfect essay. Don’t let perfectionism hold back the many other essays waiting to be published.

4. Lower the stakes

With all the content out there fighting for people's attention, the digital reader is skimming what they’re reading. I know this is how I consume information.

Knowing this, I lower the stakes. I’m happy to publish something that isn’t perfect, but where the overall idea is captivating.

5. Write for yourself

I like Morgan Housel's view on writing. He says you are writing for an audience of one. You can’t please everybody. You need to be happy with your writing first and foremost. If someone else likes it, that's a bonus.

“I’m writing for an audience of one, and that is me. The only thing that I write, the only thing that I tweet, the articles that I write, the books that I write, I just write through the lens of: ‘Do I personally think this is interesting?’ And if the answer is yes, I make a leap of faith that other people might think it’s interesting as well.“ – Morgan Housel

Have the confidence to veto feedback you don't agree with. Trust your own taste. Trust your own voice. The others will follow.

6. Choose your feedback partners wisely

Lastly, choose the right feedback partners. I love this quote from Tim Urban (the writer of the blog Wait But Why):

"The person giving feedback should: (A) believe in you, (B) be rooting for you, and (C) be completely aware that what they’re reading isn’t your max potential, but you experimenting, gaining confidence, and trying to figure out your voice. Someone who fails any of those criteria is going to do you more harm than good, and will often be the person who makes you quit prematurely and never try again (even if you don’t realize they’re the reason that happened)."

The right partners will spur you on, while the wrong ones could dampen your enthusiasm. Worse yet, their comments might cause you to leave your draft in Google Docs forever, never seeing the light of day.

The bottom line is feedback is important, but it shouldn't hold you back from publishing. That's a worse outcome than going ahead and posting something that's 'good enough' without feedback.

Writing