Monday, July 18, 2016

The Soul Pain of Receiving Feedback

"I would rather [FILL IN THE BLANK] than hear honest feedback about my writing."

Every region in the world has its natural disasters: tornados, floods, malaria, earthquakes. Up here in the Gritlands where artists are hard at work, we've been spared all of those. Perfect weather all year on stable ground. Great, right? Not so fast. Because what we have instead is potentially much worse: honest feedback.

Let's be honest about honest feedback: It hurts.

And oh, how you deal with it. Do these voices sound familiar?

But I want that chapter to be unclear.
You're not my target reader anyway. You just don't get it.
A vague sense of place and time is the effect I want.
I don't want to write like mainstream authors! They all suck.
Your suggestions take away all the style of my writing.
If you were a real friend, you'd be supportive of my writing.
Your comments made zero sense to me. None. At all.

The feedback-butthurt is so intense that it's tempting to flee into Pokemon Go or binge-watching cat videos on YouTube instead. You want to quit your writer group and find a new one, but then you've already joined all 7 groups in town. And they all suck.

But do you realize something? If you just run away from the hurt, you're not gritting. You're not getting any better. You are failing as a working artist. 

Then there is the other way to deal with feedback: Face it. Go through the pain. I've been through it so many times that I've dissected it into 7 steps: 

Step 1: Receive feedback. Wince. Collapse. Cry.
Step 2: THANK MY TORMENTORS. No matter how "off" their comments are, no matter how insulted and offended I think I feel, I always express gratitude. Always. Because even if their comments seem irrelevant (but often not anymore after a few days and several deep breaths), they are *still* my readers, responding to my writing. This important step also reminds me internally that the pain is temporary. I obligate myself to be mature about it and address the feedback. (waahhhhh!!!)
Step 3: Retreat and lick wounds. This is the dark valley of artistic depression. We're not artists if we don't know this place. Approximate duration: 36 hours.
Step 4: Realize that I am improving NOW by going through the pain.
Step 5: Get back to work. Grit.
Step 6: Look at how much better my work is!
Step 7: Return to feedback group and feel proud when they respond more positively.

I can't tell you how intimately I know these seven steps. I have had too many endeavors that never would have seen the light of day if I'd rejected the soul pain of feedback. I look back at the dark, depressing nights when the nagging Voices of Feedback kept me awake. In music, art, and writing. And I recognize that these nights were a sign that I was creating something great. 

I spent 5 years working on my manuscript, and it hurt like heck. 
Now I'm proud of it
That's the life of an artist.

Happy gritting!


  1. I remember reading an author somewhere, who recommended regularly asking for honest feedback from different categories of people in your life - family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances - by telling them "I promise I won't react to what you will tell me before a whole week". I've never tried it yet, but I see the point of it.

    1. That's a good rule to live by. Even when feedback is raving and positive, it sometimes takes a week to see that realistically and get back to work :-).