How to Respond to Negative Feedback on Writing

Learning how to respond to negative feedback on your writing is like a muscle that you have to continually exercise and develop as a writer. It’s not always easy, but with a few tips and subtle shifts in perspective, it can be a very rewarding experience that leads to growth, increased confidence, and better writing.

Learning how to respond to negative feedback on your writing can be a rewarding experience that leads to confidence and better writing.

Think of your writing as an “experiment”

Some experiments work, and some experiments need tweaks and improvements. Respond to negative feedback on your writing by viewing it as a way to continuously improve your writing “experiment” until you receive the results you want. 

Remember, Thomas Edison tried and failed thousands of times before he invented the lightbulb. Viewing negative feedback as a signal that you need to make adjustments to your ongoing experiment can take the emotion out of the process. This in turn can help you take more decisive action.

Reframe your idea of success

As discussed in our blog “How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Writer,” “success” does not mean the same thing to everyone. Instead of defining success as a perfect review of your work, a perfect grade, or getting every piece published without edits, try another approach. 

Perhaps you take previous feedback and consistently work on improving your writing, and your new definition of success looks like “have fewer edits on the next piece” or “include a minimum of three quotes from strong sources in all my pieces.” 

Establish specific, measurable areas in which you want to improve 

Again, this could be based on feedback you receive, or personal goals you set for yourself. The important thing is to make sure these goals are SMART goals so that you can track and improve upon them over time. 

SMART goals are:

  • S: Specific 
  • M: Measurable
  • A: Attainable
  • R: Relevant
  • T: Time-based

Keep a file of your successes

Keep a file of your wins and successes so you can respond to negative feedback on your writing by reminding yourself how you are crushing it. Remember, it’s possible to have major wins, failures, and room for growth happening all at the same time! But reminding yourself of past and current successes will help you power through the tough times. You’ve overcome difficult times in the past, and you will overcome difficult times today and in the future.

You can’t always please everyone all the time

Not every piece will resonate with all readers. Once you make peace with that, it becomes much easier to respond to negative feedback on your writing. Stick to your truth and know that sometimes a piece will resonate strongly with some readers, but perhaps not with others, and that’s completely fine. If even one person takes away something of value from your work, that’s an amazing success.

Differentiate between different kinds of “feedback”

Is someone being negative about your writing just for the sake of being mean, or are they actually offering solid advice that will help take your writing to the next level? If it’s the former, recognize that the nasty comments are coming from a place of deep insecurity for that person, which has nothing to do with you. Bullies are not worth your time or energy. 

On the other hand, constructive criticism is something you can view as a useful tool–you can usually spot it because the person will offer a concrete, actionable step as a suggestion that you can implement.

Let the nasty comments roll off of you, and focus only on the advice that is helpful.

All kinds of feedback can serve a purpose

Yes, even negative comments! Though hurtful, these can teach you grit and resiliency. Take everything with a grain of salt. If something doesn’t serve you, don’t worry it to death or linger over it too long–practice letting it go and moving on (a valuable skill in and of itself!). 

Constructive criticism can allow you to flex your gratitude muscle. Practice giving thanks for good advice that comes your way. If someone shares something that really resonates with you, make sure you thank them and keep those positive vibes elevated! 

Remembering your “why” is a key way to respond to negative feedback on your writing

Why are you writing in the first place? What is your purpose, your reason? Use this as a roadmap to guide you through the sea of feedback and to gauge what feedback serves you and what doesn’t. If a comment feels more like a detour than a direct route to your destination, it may not be relevant to you. Pass that exit and stay on course!

Be honest with yourself

Some of the feedback you receive may make you uncomfortable, especially if it uncovers a weakness you know you have, but you’re unwilling to acknowledge. Take time to reflect on the advice–is it a place where you would like to grow? Is something holding you back? Are there other factors in play, like procrastination or fear of failure? A little journaling can help with this exercise and to develop greater self-awareness. 

Instead of denying that you have a weakness, accept it and address it head on. For example, if you always struggle with how to use a semicolon, and someone points it out in one of your pieces, you might decide to figure out how to use it properly once and for all. Consider it an opportunity to become someone who can help others learn to use semicolons properly, too!

Bounce back quickly

It’s not the falling down that’s important–it’s how quickly you get back up. This is something that can take practice, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Don’t worry about making mistakes. In fact, you should fail, and fail often, because that means you’re taking big risks that are allowing you to learn and grow. Without going through this process, you’ll never be able to reach your highest goals.

Learn from the mistakes and growing pains of others

ALL writers have encountered negative feedback. This is good news, because it means you don’t have to go it alone! Allow these experts to be your guides and mentors. If there’s someone you can build a personal relationship or mentorship with, all the better. If not, there are many resources and stories online, including this look at 17 famous authors and their rejections from Mental Floss.

Get specific feedback on your writing

If the feedback is coming from a trusted source, such as a professor, boss, or mentor, don’t just accept the critique, no questions asked. Get as many specifics as you can. If they tell you “the tone isn’t appropriate,” for example, ask for details and examples. 

Take the guesswork out of it. This is especially important for class or job assignments, because you want to be able to deliver improvements that directly correspond with your professor or boss’s expectations. It will also allow you to set SMART goals as discussed above for which you can track and measure progress over time.

Recognize that the only way to grow is to go through the fire

Growth is not always comfortable, but it is necessary. If you have big dreams and goals, the only way to achieve them is through growth. Learning how to respond to negative feedback on your writing in constructive ways can make those periods of growth more pleasant and productive, for everyone.

Author: Elise Murrell

After years of slaying all kinds of writing projects and coaching my friends, family members, and coworkers through the writing process, I’m sharing my tried-and-true methods to help you achieve your best essays, ever.

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