Just say no to feedback, then say yes or maybe

Feedback: Just say no!

I really struggle when I receive feedback on my writing. I can work through the prewriting and drafting steps fairly well (my five-step writing process follows in the next paragraph). Fortunately, I’m usually productive in those two first steps. But I seem to hit a dysfunctional wall when I get to the third step.

Here are the steps of the writing process that I try to follow:

1. Prewrite
2. Draft
3. Get feedback
4. Revise
5. Edit

When I do get feedback about my writing, it’s usually through e-mail. When I read this feedback, my first reaction is a defiant “NO!” I can feel my lips clench in resentment like a 2-year-old.

Please note that we’re not talking about grammatical or punctuation corrections here—I know I make mistakes that I can’t see, as does every writer. I always welcome good editing.

Instead, I’m reacting to content suggestions such as “Explain this further” or “Change this word” or “Consider softening this” or “This should be a whole separate chapter.” My initial reaction to comments like these is to reject the advice that I am paying for. Eventually, after I walk away from the computer and cool off, I become more rational in assessing the value of the comments. In the end, I accept more suggestions than I reject, and I eventually do feel grateful for all the comments and I always express gratitude to my reviewer.

For example, I recently thanked my friend Jane MacKenzie for giving me feedback on the final draft of my new book, Webinar School. “I’m so very grateful for your excellent comments. It’s amazing how locked down I get when I’m tired of a project. My mindset is: ‘It’s fine as it is.’ You pointed out where it is not fine! Thank you for that.”

Not listening to feedback
Not listening to feedback

I’m beginning to realize that since I now recognize my behavior, I can accept that behavior. That’s the first step. My recovery friends say that I need to admit that I am powerless over my initial negative reactions to feedback. It’s OK to have those feelings, they tell me—just don’t act on those feelings. So I sit on my hands or go for a walk or scrub the floor (I work at home) until enough time has passed. Then, when I’m no longer emotional, I move ahead in accepting the feedback—or not.

The ultimate irony

And the amazing irony is that I make my income giving writers feedback, either as their editor or their Technical Writing webinar teaching. Perhaps my students and clients also clench their jaws in rebellion when they read my comments. Of course, they are always gracious when we meet virtually. Perhaps they can teach me to accept feedback as gracefully as they do?

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