What happens after you’ve received some feedback, whether it was from a loved one, a beta reader, or an editor? We all know that getting feedback on your writing is an important part of the process, but where do you start when you’ve got pages and pages of notes?

You’ve given someone your manuscript or a few pages of it. They’ve read it and written notes in the margins or typed out a lengthy email response. Maybe you gave it to multiple people and you’ve received four times that amount! Or maybe you’re about to attend your monthly writing group and hear all of the members’ opinions.

Hello, overwhelm. 

Here is how to use feedback on your writing.

Step 1: Breathe.

This is a pre-step, before you receive or look at the feedback. Stop and breathe. Seriously. Remind yourself that feedback doesn’t have anything to do with you as a person, as a human. If feedback is critical, it doesn’t mean anything about your ability to write or the quality of your idea. Before you hear or read the feedback, take a moment to center yourself and remember why you asked them for feedback in the first place. It’s because you want to make your story as strong as it can be. You want it to resonate with readers. And the only way to find out if it resonates is to actually have people tell you one way or the other. Prepare yourself. Go into the receiving of the feedback with a strong heart, a lifted chin, and an open mind.

Step 2: Process your emotional response.

Once you’ve received and read through the feedback, take another pause. Allow some time to let it settle, especially if you received it from multiple people at once. Let any residual emotion recede. And yes, there is emotion, because we are human. So if you are feeling at all hurt, or resentful, or defensive, work through those feelings first before returning to the page. This might take a day, or it might take a couple of days. Let that be okay, but also make it active. Figure out what you need to do to process it and make a plan for exactly when you’re going to look at it again.

And let me be clear: I don’t mean shove it all in a drawer in a fit and leave it there for six months. I mean, process the emotions and then let them go. And when you’re ready, pull that feedback back out and read through it again. You’ll probably notice the positives more than you did the first time, since our brains are wired to look for danger, aka critical comments. So enjoy the positives. Revel in them.

Step 3: Organize it.

This is where we get to work. Think about how the feedback was delivered. Did they write notes directly on your page? Did they use the commenting features in your word document? Likely the comments were written or spoken as they came to mind, rather than in an organized fashion, so it’s going to be your job to organize them. Perhaps you like a spreadsheet. Create columns for related notes. Or maybe you prefer index cards or giant poster paper.

Whatever your method, I want you to collect comments into categories. Anything that was said about a certain character might go in one category, for example. Or anything about pacing, or dialogue, or plot holes. Organizing feedback into categories will help you when you are ready to revise. I’m going to teach you a specific strategy for using these categories for revision in next week’s post, but in the meantime, you can use one category at a time as a lens through which to look at your manuscript each time you read through it. This is the best way to use feedback on your writing.

A quick note about receiving feedback from multiple people…

There is the possibility that you’ll receive some conflicting feedback. What works for one reader may not work for another, or they may have different ideas of how to fix an issue. Remember, at the end of the day you are the boss of your story. Take the advice that resonates and leave the rest. It’s that simple!

Writers, while we know that feedback is an important part of the process, receiving it can often increase the sense of overwhelm that revision often causes. If we can remember to breathe and focus, then strategically organize the feedback in a way that is more effective and efficient, it can become just the right tool when we need it.


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