How to take writing feedback without feeling anxious

It’s never nice being told that your writing has missed the mark. But there’s something about creative work that makes taking feedback particularly hard to take – even for seasoned wordfolk.

For starters, creativity comes from the heart, because it’s heavily influenced by your memories and your experiences. And that makes it feel extra personal.

Creative stuff is subjective too. So it can be easy to think you’re in the right, and the person reviewing it is in the wrong, when it’s actually much less clear cut.

And to only make things worse, we humans are hard-wired to take bad news badly in general. Psychologists call it negativity bias. It’s where we remember traumatic experiences more than we do happy ones.

That means you’re more likely to remember your best mate Jess accidentally giving you a black eye on your 11th birthday, than the lovely prezzie she bought you three days later to say sorry.

But even though your stomach might fill with dread from the moment you send your first draft over to your editor, your boss or your client, there are loads of ways to kill the butterflies (not literally, I those little guys).

Follow our tips and you’ll be able to see even the most scathing feedback in a much more positive light.

1. Remove the emotion

Now you might think this is easier said than done, especially when you’ve poured your soul into your writing, but you can make it feel a lot less personal by reminding yourself that any feedback you get is on the work, not on you as a person.

The feedback is based on whether your work answers the brief. It’s not based on whether you’ve got what it takes to do the job.

See it more like a business transaction and less like it’s your crush scoffing at a soppy poem you’ve sent them, and you’ll feel a lot less attached to it.

2. Trust the process

Think about when your bins get emptied every fortnight (bear with me here).

Your wheelie bin is taken from the kerb to the bin wagon, then the bin wagon does its fancy pickup and dump bit, then your wheelie bin is returned to its place on the kerb, minus all the rubbish.

It’s a tried-and-tested three-step process, and every step is just as essential as the other to get the job done.

The same can be said of the writing process – step 1 is the briefing, step 2 is the writing and step 3 is the refining. Whether the feedback is just a few tweaks or a complete rewrite, it’s a completely normal final stage of the process.

3. See it as a collaboration

The three-step writing process I just mentioned has a lot more mini-steps within it, which includes quite a bit of back-and-forth between you and the client:

They brief you. You go back with questions. They answer the questions. You do a first draft. They give you feedback. You ask questions on their feedback. They answer your questions. You do a second draft. They sign it off.

Sounds more like teamwork than a load of one-way pressure, right?

This back-and-forth is the way it should be. Clients are rarely awkward for the sake of it. They do it because they want the best work. So take the pressure off yourself a bit.

4. Sleep on it

It’s human nature to go on the defensive when we feel attacked. But if you disagree with the feedback you’ve been given, never respond straight away. Any initial feelings of dread that you’ve done a bad job will dissipate after you’ve walked away from your screen.

Come back, and spend some time reviewing the feedback and seeing if it matches up to what was asked for in the brief. More often than not, your client will be pointing out something you’ve missed, and it’s up to you to show them you can sort it.

5. Learn from it

Remember when you were a kid and you licked the end of a battery and thought “uuugh that’s horrible, I’m not going to do that again”?

Do this with your writing feedback – whatever’s wrong, add it to a mental list of the things you need to overcome to avoid making the same mistake again.

Did you not leave yourself enough time to do a good job? Did you not do enough research? Did you not ask questions about something you weren’t sure of? Whatever you need to do will make you a better writer.

And if, after trying all these, you’re still drowning with doubt or plagued by impostor syndrome, ask yourself this one question: “Will anybody die if I get this wrong?”

The answer’s always “no”.