Taking Feedback

There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience.”  — Archibald Macleish

A couple years ago, in the midst of managing a huge project for a quite prestigious organization, my boss called me into his office.  “Megan,” he said, “I’ve got some feedback to share with you from your team.  It’s not positive.”

“Oh?”  I looked at him intently.  “Please tell me.”

He proceeded to fill me in on how some of my direct reports were unhappy with my communication to them — keeping them informed, escalating their concerns.

I nodded throughout — I could see where there was room for improvement.

He got to the end and stared at me, a perplexed look on his face.  “So… does that make sense?”

Not knowing what he wanted, I elaborated on my nodding.  “Yes,”  I told him, and explained my ideas for how to make things better.

He once again shook his head.  “Wow, you’re really good at taking feedback.”

I smiled.  “Uh yeah… ”

Why wouldn’t you be?

Oh I know it’s tough.  It’s tough to hear the things you’re doing might be having a negative impact,  the path you’re down the wrong one.  But still… why wouldn’t you want to change it?  Why wouldn’t you want to get on the right path?

Two years ago I submitted a manuscript to my editor.  Actually he was an editor at the time, who responded and said that for him to take me on, I had to be open to some major modifications.  I told him I was, that I didn’t mind the constructive criticism.

Many hours of work later I can honestly say that what I submitted to him then was by all accounts an essay.  What I have today is a story, with dialogue, characters, scenes — all things I didn’t even know I was missing until I opened myself up to someone else’s opinion.   And I’m still not done improving it!

A couple weeks ago, I submitted that story to a professional reviewer in my target audience.  What do you think — no revisions suggested?  Ha, I wish!  Actually she suggested some pretty big changes, ones that had me trembling a bit when I first read them.  Could I really take on the extra work?  Could I still get this book out by Halloween, or at least the holiday shopping season?

Three days later, I’m already loving this new version.  I’ve added so much more depth to the characters, in particular, myself , and have put in some scenes that really bring the story to life.

When I e-mailed this reviewer back to tell her about the adjustments, she told me that she was impressed.  Most authors might give up when someone points out some flaws in their work, she said.

Nope, I thought, not me.  I don’t see feedback as a letdown.

It’s an opportunity.

Are you good at taking feedback?  How have you benefited from constructive criticism?  Who can you count on to give it to you?

4 thoughts on “Taking Feedback

  1. You know, Megan, I really think you’ll be a great model for young writers. You should talk to Kimberly about appearing on her WordOne2Done project as a guest motivator. Your positive attitude and willingness to grow have been so refreshing. I’m pleased to have worked with you on this, and I think all your dreams are within your grasp.

  2. Thanks Dave, really appreciate the kind words, as well as your help in bringing this story to life. Would love to be a guest motivator for Kimberly’s project – inspiring young people to reach their dreams is my mission, after all :).

  3. anonymous

    “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.”
    Randy Pausch
    Anyone who’s ever lost the “big game”, not gotten the “big sale”or that promotion or award, not finished first in a competition, takes away an experience that will change the way they compete the next time. What they do with that experience will determine their outcome the next time. We learn more from what we do wrong than we do from our success.

  4. Megan, this is a great post. I have found the same thing, when you open yourself up to hear the negative–as long as the negative is done with the intent of making the author better and not to tear them apart–you can only improve. Stifling the negative or hiding from it will only cripple you as a writer. I can’t say that I embrace the negative, but I can say that I process it, review it, and then get my butt to work.

    When it comes to writing, I look at it this way: Once I publish my work it’s as if I’m now standing naked in the middle of Times Square. I would like to receive more catcalls than rotten tomatoes, if possible. So I will listen to my critique partners. I will listen to my beta readers. I will listen to my editor. I want to do everything I can, so when I’m standing there naked I can at least fake confidence.

    If a writer chooses to ignore all the negative then I don’t want to hear it when they’re pelted with rotten fruit. I worry for them. (I know MANY writers who do–weird, but true. A good friend of mine received an email from a beta reader who listed positive and negative feedback on her memoir, and when we asked her what the negative said, she said she didn’t know. She chose not to read that part. Are you kidding me? Her book comes out in November and I’m terrified for her. She wouldn’t even hire an editor–only a proof reader–and I KNOW for a fact her book needs work, lots of it. But she doesn’t want to lose the authentic feel of it).

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your link with me. This was great.

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