Reader question! How do I incorporate feedback on my writing?

I’ve written before about receiving feedback. My advice was “don’t.” ??

Seriously. ?Don’t.

People can lob their feedback over the fence. (Maybe you even asked them to!) But whether you asked or not, you do not have to pick it up off the ground just because it landed on your side.

You don’t have to receive things just because they’re given.

(And if like me, you can’t stop yourself from soliciting feedback, then consider creating a small circle of 1-3 people whose only feedback ever is “It’s good! Keep going.”)


But what if you have no choice? That’s my reader’s question. She’s writing for work, and her boss has appointed themselves editor.

She asks: “How do you deal with negative feedback that requests improvement, but perhaps isn’t specific on how to improve?”

Well, ::rubs hands together:: get me a bucket list and cross this one off! I’ve always wanted to write an advice column. (Dreams do come true!)

Here we go.


Dear Reader/Bucket List Dream Granter,

1. Triple-check with yourself that you have to incorporate this feedback.

Do you have to edit your work based on this feedback?

Can you instead nod sagely as your boss plays out their repressed-artist editorial fantasy and then do whatever you want?

Let’s say the answer’s no. You do have to change your writing.

2. Unpack.

In your letter you said you got a lot of feedback. Your copy was all marked up with red. But a lot of feedback is not specific feedback.

Specific feedback explains not that they don’t like a thing, but why a thing doesn’t work, and even better: what they would prefer instead.

(BTW, I can’t resist sharing one of my favorite pieces of non-specific feedback from a boss who has no idea what he is talking about. At least he was nice about it.)

3. Take appropriate action.

If you’re getting a lot of non-specific feedback from a boss who is also insisting you incorporate their feedback, what do you do next? You asked me if you should look at changing your voice or your style.

Neither, because editing the work is not the next step. Any reviewer is of course entitled not to like something, but a writer can’t act on such feedback. If your boss wants to be not a reviewer but an editor, they need to do something. Which means you need to do something else.

So, I’d focus on how you can get new instructions you can act on. Can you talk together with the piece in front of you? Change the way you work on the project? (Maybe they write an outline first.) Compromise in some other way?

If your boss can’t do this for you, we’re out of my wheelhouse and it’s time to consult a different advice-giving professional. 


In any case, as you navigate, maybe it’ll bring you a little comfort to know that whatever happens…

your writing is safe,

as long as you remind yourself that the problem doesn’t stem from your writing, but from a power dynamic.

So many of us writers shut down production because of power and the people who abuse it.

The comments of a sour-faced grade school teacher. Or some expert at a conference telling a shiny-faced newbie that their book idea will never sell. Or a boss who cannot be satisfied.

These people can throw you off the scent of your own writing for decades.

Your writing is safe.

You don’t have to pick up feedback just because it gets lobbed over the fence.

It’s good! ? Keep going.

– M

PS: Need guidance? I’m here. Here’s an overview of how I work with clients. ​

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