blog, Pat Aitcheson writes, writing process

How to take the negative feedback challenge – and win

blue thumbs up and red thumbs down by geralt on pixabay (edited)
geralt via pixabay

“Every defect is a treasure.”
W. Edwards Deming

Integral to improvement is the need for feedback. You only know what needs to change or improve by seeing what does or does not work.

For creatives it can come as one star reviews, lack of engagement, negative or offensive comments. You might be working with a mentor/tutor or in a group of your peers, and actively seeking comment in order to do better work.

Harness the pain of negative feedback

Writers crave good feedback. We want to hear how much readers loved our characters, plot and description. Positive feedback (I loved this!) feels good but isn’t enough on its own. Without constructive elements there can be no learning. Like dessert, it tastes better after eating your greens.

But we’re less keen on hearing negatives. Like broccoli or high fibre cereal, we know it’s good for us but it doesn’t taste good.

Negative feedback cuts to the heart of our self esteem. If we are too closely identified with our work (writing is my life rather than writing is something I do) we feel that a criticism of our work is a criticism of our core self. Then we must defend ourselves by attacking either the critic or ourselves. Both of these options are painful, therefore we avoid them.

Reviews and comments are an accepted part of life. The only way to avoid them is never showing your work. Fighters work with a sparring partner to build up strength and improve skills. Writers can ask for help from a trusted source. Each time someone points out a defect is an opportunity to learn and do better next time. We must learn to take feedback on the chin and come out fighting with our self-esteem intact.

There are ways to make feedback both palatable and useful, whether it was invited or not.

Constructive or destructive criticism — know the difference

Constructive critique is aimed at the work.
It is factual. It focuses on objective measures using rational language.

Destructive critique is aimed at the creator.
It is opinion given in emotive language. It may not be relevant to the work at hand. It is personal.

What does a constructive critique look like?

  • Timely — ideally given soon after the event
  • Focused — limited to one or two points
  • Objective — factual, uses respectful language
  • Specific — gives examples
  • Actionable — suggests targeted remedies

Poor critique:
What complete rubbish. I didn’t get it. You’re useless, my child could write better.

Good critique:
I enjoyed the story but found this hard to read. The sentences and paragraphs were very long and it looked like a solid wall of text.

Consider having one idea per sentence and three sentences per paragraph. That will give more white space on the screen, which is easier to read.

 

The first example is pure negative opinion and offers no useful insight.
The second example avoids insults and emotive language, and suggests remedies.

Whether you choose to take the advice depends on the source and the quality of the suggestion. But it gives you something to work with. The new version might work better or not suit your style. Either way you know more than before, and can make more informed choices in the next piece.

Take constructive feedback on the chin

  • Allow time for strong emotions to settle
  • Look for a kernel of truth, no matter how small or hard to accept
  • Consider the alternatives presented
  • Be open to trying another way, even if you reject it in the end
  • If you decide to maintain your current position, know why
  • Thank your critique partner for their time and attention

Not every comment deserves a response. Sometimes you just note it and move on. Remember you are in charge of your words. You don’t have to accept all of the critique, or make all suggested changes. However, review from another source can be invaluable in showing a reader’s view, which you as the author cannot experience.

Put up your guard against trolls

Endless negativity, especially if mixed with personal attack and vitriol, says more about the commenter than the work.

The internet is full of people whose comments consist of slurs and insults. Sometimes they start by being pleasant and complimentary, then if you respond they switch to attack. Being targeted by an online and probably anonymous bully is a painful and upsetting experience. The answer is simple; don’t feed the trolls.

Do not respond, do not engage in a flame war, do not stoop to their level. You risk hurting your brand among observers, as a reputation is hard to build but easy to destroy. And you open yourself to a stream of negative feelings that persist long after the encounter.

You can close comments, mute, block or unfollow, depending on the platform. Often silence is the best response.

Be open to discussion

A common response to critique is to become defensive or aggressive.

I worked all night on that and you don’t even give me any credit so what’s the point?

Well, what do you know anyway? I’ve got a postgraduate degree in X so I think I know what I’m talking about.

A good sparring partner exposes your weaker areas without attacking them outright. You wouldn’t spar when angry; it could turn into an ugly fight. It might take some time to process the emotional hit, so take a breath. Take in the comment and remember that you’re here to learn. Nobody is perfect. Everyone can improve.

Learn to love the pain

Exposing yourself to feedback more often is the best way to increase your tolerance of it. No creative is immune to the sinking feeling when they see just how many changes they need to make to a piece. You’re allowed to feel bad about it as long as you keep the end goal in mind. Constructive critique builds the strength to do better work.

You are not your work

You put something of yourself into your creation, but please separate your sense of self from the thing you made. Critique of your work does not lessen your worth as a person. When you truly accept this, critique is much easier to handle. You can always make another, better piece using what you’ve learned.

You are not your work.

Now it’s your turn

Everyone’s a critic and dishing out negative reviews is easy. Giving useful critique isn’t easy. Like all good teaching, producing insightful analysis and actionable suggestions is harder than it looks.

I invite you to try writing good critique, either on an older piece of your own writing or by swapping with someone else. The first and golden rule is be respectfulSharpening your own critical faculties is essential if you’re serious about developing your writing skills.

via Brainyquote

blog, writing process

Given but not taken

Why do we find it so hard to accept compliments?

 

daisy-gift_GLady
GLady via pixabay

Last night in my writing group, we critiqued each other’s work as usual. One piece sparkled with wonderful dialogue. It is one of the writer’s signature strengths, and I told her so. Her smile faltered and I could see her thinking no, that’s not me.

But, it really is.

Writers bemoan the lack of decent feedback. If the feedback is negative, we are wounded more or less deeply, but we hear it. If it is positive however, we tend to discount it. This is like turning your back on a gift. Worse still is when we immediately deny the truth of the compliment. This is like slapping the gift to the ground and stamping on it.

Who has not felt disappointed after giving a compliment that was rejected?

The Johari Window

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 11.33.49

(from toolshero.com )

The Johari window model was developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955 at UCLA. Designed as a tool for self awareness and analysing group dynamics, it is, like any good theory, applicable to many activities. (you can find more information here )

If we want to improve, we need to hear what others know about us that we don’t know about ourselves. Thus we seek feedback and act on it, to reduce the blind spot.

It’s like having someone tell me what the back of my head looks like.

Denial is a common response when faced with conflict between how we see the world and how the world sees us. When we internalise the observations of others (given in good faith) and adjust our behaviour accordingly, we move forward with greater self awareness. Our blind spot is smaller.

We are hardwired to notice threats in our environment, a legacy of the lizard brain that reacts quicker than thought to keep us safe. Hidden behind polite self-deprecation is fear.

Oh sh*t they’ve seen through me and now they know I’m an impostor. They want something, they don’t mean it, they’re trying to trick me.

Receive with grace

But, we’re better than our lizard brain and we can engage our big, beautiful cortex. You know, the bit of your brain that does the actual writing. We can feel the fear and defeat it.

Think of a compliment as a gift. Be polite, smile and say thank you like you were taught. The more you practise, the easier this becomes.

Doesn’t matter if you like it or not, that comes later. Give your cortex time to catch up to the instinctual response.

When you unwrap it later, in private, you might see that you’ve been given something precious after all.