How to Receive Feedback on Your Writing Without Feeling Bad

Criticism makes our writing better if we can take it.

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Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

We all know that criticism is a part of life. It can even be helpful if we know how to take it. This can be easier said than done, so let’s walk through some of the reasons to seek out criticism for our writing and how it can help make us better at our craft.

Reasons to seek out criticism for our writing:

  1. It makes you a better writer. Having an open, honest dialogue with a reader about what’s working and what needs improvement obviously makes us a better writer. Our writing isn’t ever perfect, but with some help, it can be better.
  2. It develops your “receptive” muscles. Learning how to receive criticism of your writing with grace and dignity will serve you well in other areas of your life. For example, when your boss tells you that you need to rethink your approach to a project at work.
  3. You learn emotion regulation skills. In other words, if receiving honest feedback on your writing makes you upset, actively seeking out that feedback helps you develop the skills of dealing with your emotions as they come up. This skill is helpful in virtually every area of life.

How I learned to receive criticism of my writing:

There are two things I did in college that helped me learn how to give and receive feedback on writing projects.

The first is that I signed up for as many Creative Writing workshops as possible. (I was an English major, so these classes fit in well with my degree program.)

In a traditional writing course, one person sees your writing: your professor. They give feedback primarily by writing notes in the margins of your papers. While a professor’s feedback can be hard to take sometimes, it’s a relatively easy way to receive criticism because you’re only dealing with one person’s opinion.

A creative writing workshop, on the other hand, is designed to give you as many opportunities to receive feedback on your writing projects as possible before the end of the term.

In most of my writing workshops, we “workshopped” a piece (provided feedback) at least once a week.

Imagine facing a group of your peers several times throughout the semester and hearing them tear your writing apart. (Sure, a few shy students would offer kind remarks, but for the most part, these review sessions were meant to build your writing up by tearing it down.)

It toughens you up. Or at least, it toughened me up. I got so used to hearing other people’s opinions on my writing that I sometimes lost track of my own goals for a piece. (More on how to avoid this problem momentarily.)

The second thing I did in college that improved my ability to receive criticism on my writing was to learn to give criticism to other people. Specifically, I became a writing tutor at my college. I received training on how to deliver feedback in a way that helped other students feel empowered to improve their writing.

Tips I learned along the way:

  1. (You knew this was coming.) Don’t take it personally. Seriously. The more you can separate yourself from your writing project, the better you’ll be able to hear and receive feedback on your writing without feeling bad.
  2. You don’t have to make all of the changes that are suggested to you. You’re the writer. You’re in charge of your project and you get to take the feedback that’s helpful and leave the rest.
  3. Ask clarifying questions so you understand why changes are being suggested. If you don’t follow someone’s logic, ask them to clarify their feedback so you can determine if you want to incorporate it into your next draft.
  4. Thank the person for their feedback. (It’s not always easy to give criticism, you know!)

Asking for people’s opinions on your writing can feel tricky, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to improve your writing, it’s often helpful to hear feedback from your editors, colleagues, or friends. Just make sure you stay in the driver’s seat; you’re the writer so you get to decide what feedback gets incorporated into your project and what gets (respectfully) ignored.

With practice, you may start to enjoy the process of receiving criticism because you’ll know from experience that it makes you a better writer.

Dare I ask: Do you have any constructive feedback for me? Thanks in advance!

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