Accepting Criticism Gracefully: The Writers’ Edition
It’s never easy to hear criticism about your work, especially when you’ve given it your all. But there’s a light at the end of the feedback tunnel and when you make it through, you’ll be a better writer for it.
When I first started at Wix, I already had lots of writing experience and was used to getting great feedback. I was on a roll and ready to start making an impact on my team as the sole writer. But the Wix way of writing was new to me and I got a lot of tough feedback during those first few months. Let’s just say that, as a newcomer, I experienced “growing pains” as I tried to change my writing style from formal and corporate to casual and conversational.
Criticism is a price we pay to do this work. Unlike other professionals, writers tend to get lots of feedback from anyone and everyone, even those who aren’t qualified to give it. (If you're the one offering the critique, check out our article about how to give feedback to a writer.)
And even if you’re getting feedback from the right people, sometimes you’re left scratching your head and wondering what they meant by, “This text is wrong.”
Here are 5 tips to help you receive feedback—while staying sane and professional:
Give it time to soak in Skim through the feedback so you understand the gist, then close the document. Open it back up later. Depending on your deadline, this might be in 5 minutes, 1 hour or even tomorrow. How does this help? If you’re like me, your first instinct will be to defend your writing. When you give yourself some space, you can avoid this knee-jerk response. Once I get some “time away,” I’m able to see the feedback with a fresh pair of eyes—and I often find that there’s the tiniest nugget of truth there.
Think before you edit Make sure you understand the feedback and that it makes sense to you. If the person didn’t explain it, ask for a short meeting. It can be tempting, especially with minor changes, to just change it and move on—but you risk missing a learning opportunity. Pay extra attention to feedback from people who review your work regularly. You may keep getting the same kind of comments from them, so take the time to really understand what they’re looking for. Also take note if you keep getting the same feedback over and over. Is there a grammar mistake you keep making? Are you writing long sentences when shorter ones would do? Keep track of this feedback and refer to it when you’re working on your next project.
Listen to the good feedback and throw out the rest* Even Harper Lee got tons of feedback on her first draft! So when reading through comments, take them with a grain of salt. Try incorporating the feedback and see if it improved your content. If it did, then great—thank them and move on. If it didn’t? Thank them anyway. Not everyone will give useful feedback, and you’re the one that gets to sift through and figure out which advice is worth listening to. *One caveat about throwing away feedback: sometimes you’ll need to implement feedback that makes no sense to you, because of who gave it. Read on to the next tip.
Know whose comments matter Not all comments will improve your content, but they might matter just because of who gave them. Your boss, the CEO, the client; some people’s feedback simply can’t be ignored. This can be frustrating, especially if you don’t agree. If you feel strongly that the feedback isn’t in the best interest of your company or target market, try to get data on your side. Start by looking at what your competitors are writing, what your users are looking for, or even what Google Trends shows for specific keywords. Then, try to make your case in a professional way, free from emotions and full of logic. (Having data also helps with a particularly invested reviewer who won’t back down, or when a few key reviewers disagree with each other and you’re caught in the middle.) Remember that even “bad” feedback can help you. As you find data to back you up, you’ll gain confidence in your writing skills. And if the data isn’t on your side? Then this is a great learning opportunity for you!
Keep the shame from creeping in When giving feedback, many people focus on what was wrong. While disheartening, it doesn’t mean there isn't a lot you did right. It helps to remember that whoever gave you feedback probably has good intentions. Their focus is on making sure your content will be clear for the intended audience. Assuming they’re emotionally stable, the criticism isn’t a personal attack and their goal isn't simply to find fault with your work. (And if it is? You and your work deserve to be appreciated, so check out our list of open writing positions.) It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole and start wondering if you’re the worst writer ever. Stop yourself from going there by focusing on how feedback can help improve your writing skills.
Even though criticism can sting, it can also be just the thing that helps you keep growing as a writer. So use it! Good feedback can help you improve your current project, but great feedback will make you a stronger writer.
Lana Raykin, UX Writer at Wix