The most vulnerable part of writing (whether it’s for a client, editor, friends, or even a personal blog audience) is the fact that it is out there for others to read…and appreciate or criticize.
It could be disheartening that after you poured your heart and soul into a piece that makes you proud, some guy would bash you for what you’ve written.
So, how to handle negative feedback when you got one or more along the way?
Hey, we are on the same boat, my writer friends! So, let’s battle the waves together.
This is a guest post by Zanny Merullo Steffgen.
9 Practical Ways to Handle Negative Feedback Like a Pro
You can’t expect every single reader to love your work. There will always be a critic in the crowd.
Even those people in other creative disciplines like acting, music, visual arts, and culinary arts encounter detractors who tried to shred their reputation for something they put out there. Why would it be different for us writers?
Here are some tips for handling negative feedback and edits on your work:
1. Don’t Always Blindly Accept It
Feedback can be helpful, whether they are positive or negative. One thing you should remember is to not always blindly accept criticism of your writing.
Opinions can be subjective, and feedback from anyone who isn’t an established writer or editor themselves may be an opinion or personal reaction that you shouldn’t take to heart. Keep in mind as well that peers who read your work and see you as a competitor may have less-than-straightforward motives for critiquing your work.
By blindly accepting negative feedback as a naked truth, you risk damaging your confidence and impeding your writing progress.
When working as a freelance writer, negative feedback from a client can be especially worrisome.
Since most clients hire writers because they lack the skills themselves, it’s important to remember that their critiques of your writing are coming from an important, but not authoritative, perspective.
For example, if a client hired you for your SEO expertise and their proposed edit stray away from SEO, don’t blindly accept their suggestion without letting them know your professional opinion first.
It is also important that you understand where they’re coming from before contradicting an edit, and explain using concrete evidence why you disagree, like:
“I understand that you’d like the intro rearranged, but with my SEO expertise I’d recommend leaving the order as-is, so it has a more logical flow that is helpful for readers who are scanning the article.
The ultimate decision is up to you, but this is what I would recommend with my years of experience.”
Another reason not to go crazy over negative feedback is that it may have been harsh and unkind. In that case, rather than hearing the person’s words echoing in your head for a while, confront the situation head-on. A simple “Thank you for the feedback, but in the future can you do it this way? That will be more helpful for me.” should suffice.
2. Fix the Problem
The quickest way to dissolve negative feedback? Fix the problem that was pointed out.
This isn’t always possible, of course, but if a client is disappointed in a draft and gives you lots of negative feedback, counter it by addressing their comments and submitting an improved draft.
Everyone (readers, clients, editors, and other writers) knows that all writers slip up from time to time. So, the best way to make a comeback after a poorly received piece of writing is to improve it.
3. Try to Think Objectively
It’s normal that your first reaction upon hearing that someone didn’t like your writing to be one of hurt or even betrayal.
Once you’ve let those emotions pass, however, it’s important to think of the critique objectively.
- Is there truth to the negative comment you received?
- Does a piece of feedback show you something about your writing that you wouldn’t have recognized yourself?
- Did you miss a few too many typos that a client or editor picked up on right away?
The goal of most feedback is improvement. So, if you believe that there is a nugget of wisdom in a critique, acknowledge it.
4. Stop Yourself from Spiraling
While some emotion upon hearing negative feedback about your writing is to be expected—after all, writing can be extremely vulnerable—it’s important to stop yourself from spiraling.
If someone says, “I think the conclusion paragraph is weak,” that doesn’t mean “You are a weak writer,” so make sure you don’t equate the two sentences.
Don’t think that each negative feedback is a personal attack on you. Many people genuinely want to see you improve your craft.
The first step in stopping a negative mental pattern is to recognize it, so catch yourself before you get carried away and direct any anger inwards.
5. Accept and Let Go
Alright, so you’ve let yourself feel the emotions that accompany negative feedback about your writing. You’ve also stopped yourself from spiraling into an unhealthy thought pattern—now what?
The next step is to accept the negative feedback and let go of any emotions it evokes. Try repeating to yourself, This is an opinion and doesn’t define me as a writer until your sentiments subside. Get up, dust yourself out, and get back to the race!
6. Remind Yourself of Your Successes
Rather than succumbing to internal negativity in the wake of criticism, remind yourself of all you’ve accomplished with your writing so far.
Maybe you return to a piece you’re particularly proud of. Or keep a folder of screenshots of positive feedback that you can look at when losing confidence. Nothing triggers writer’s block faster than a drop in confidence, so make sure you give yourself a boost before sitting down to write again.
7. Grow From It
Now that you’ve dealt with the emotional part of receiving negative feedback, it’s time to use it to your advantage.
Think of someone’s criticism as the fuel you need to propel you towards better writing. If an editor remarks on the fact that you use passive language too much in your writing, keep that in mind during your next assignment and don’t make the same mistake twice.
If a trusted friend comments that you’re missing excitement when building the plot in a piece of fiction you showed them, use different strategies to invite suspense into your next draft.
Think of negative feedback as your chance to grow, and you’ll never see it the same way again.
8. Get to Know What a Client is Looking For
If negative feedback or edits come from someone who is paying you to write for them regularly, use their comments as a chance to home in on exactly what they’re looking for from your work.
Does your client ask you to change sentences that use casual language? Stick to more formal wording in your next assignment. Paying attention to the feedback you get from clients—both negative and positive—is the best way to provide excellent service and may turn a short-term assignment into a long-term business relationship.
One way to do so is to keep a document full of the client’s comments and notice patterns. Come back to this document every time you are working on a new assignment and edit your work with their comments in mind, and pretty soon your client may not have any feedback at all!
9. Save Cut Sentences
It’s easy to get attached to specific sentences you came up with. But it’s important to accept that none of them are sacred cows that should be left untouched at all costs.
An editor may cut a bit of phrasing that you felt confident about, or a client may express their dissatisfaction with a piece of copy you were excited to submit, leaving you disappointed and doubting your skills.
Rather than pushing the client or editor to keep your favorite sentence, simply cut it and paste it into a separate document of clippings and cut sentences. Then, turn to this document when you need a little extra inspiration. That way you satisfy the person you’re writing for and don’t have to worry about losing a favorite sentence along the way!
We hope that the tips we provided here would pull you out of the doldrums after receiving negative feedback. You must build your mental and emotional fortitude if you want to last long in professional writing.
For more tips that help you handle the mental trials of the writing industry, check out feelgoodfreelancewriting.com.