You may have heard about the five phases of grief. Psychological professionals have outlined the pattern of emotions that humans cycle through during the grieving process. As a writing professional, I’ve discovered the five phases of receiving feedback. Any writer who is advancing in their career has been through the sometimes shocking experience of having her work critiqued. Cycling through these five feedback phases is normal. Getting stuck in any of them, however, could bring your writing career to a painful halt. See if you recognize yourself at any of these phases:
Denial. Defensiveness sets in. How could they say that about your character? Can’t they see how perfect she is? You go home and rant to your spouse about how clueless your critique group is. You shore up a line of defense and tick the points off on your fingers while your beloved nods and smiles.
Depression. What? Your draft isn’t perfect? After all that work… you realize that your blossoming talent doesn’t hold up without some pruning. You may hole up for weeks, or months, in this phase, daunted by the real work of writing: revision. Your balm: forays to the library and to read all those other successes.
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Integration. You’re still alive, and is that a glimmer of desire to have another look at your manuscript? Take a deep breath and look clearly at the comments you received. Which feedback can be integrated and what needs to be chucked?
Enthusiasm. Okay, you know what to do now. You’ve found some grace and you’ve taken the criticism. Outlining a plan for revision, you’re ready to go. You’re over the worst of it. You’re even kind of excited about it. You can write a bestseller!
Acceptance. You move into work mode and start working through the details.
You realize that writing is suitable work for those who can handle the long haul. You recommit to the work of being a writer. There’s a lot to do, but with support you can write this thing!
To move through the five phases more effectively, here are some tried and true methods that I have used with my coaching clients.
To handle the denial, ask yourself this simple question: “What’s true about this feedback?” Take a step back from the work and be as objective as you can. Is it true that there is a lot of exposition in your novel? Is it true that your characters don’t seem developed enough? Making this kind of assessment strengthens your skills as a writer. Taking your work apart, piece by piece, will allow you to delve into the craft of writing.
For the overwhelming emotions that drive you to hide under the covers, try giving yourself an acknowledgment. This simple coaching tool can help you to recognize your progress, and what you have done right. An acknowledgment could look like this: “You gave the draft as much as you could when you wrote it. Look at how far you have come since you said you wanted to write.” Working through the emotions goes more quickly if you are able to talk them out with a compassionate listener.
Call up your writing buddy or coach and give space to the feelings that without expression might keep you trapped for months.
When you get to the integration phase, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re maturing as a writer. Realizing that writing is more than the first flush of inspiration is a powerful step toward success. Give yourself a better chance at success by outlining a plan, creating a schedule, and sticking to the work of revision.
Enthusiasm is the fun part of the process. Here you reconnect with some of the original passion for the piece, but with the added commitment and knowledge that you are willing to show up to make your writing shine.
In the final phase, the flare and spark of enthusiasm settles into a warm, steady fire.
You are fueled by the respect you have for yourself for sticking with it, for your love of writing, for your admiration for others who have done this work and triumphed.
If you do find yourself stuck, if getting feedback has stopped you cold, get help. Meet with a writing buddy to talk out the feedback. Talk long walks and ponder your commitment to the work. What drives you to keep going despite the challenges?
Understanding your motivation to write, and to write that particular piece, will help you to move through the five phases of feedback more quickly. Receiving feedback gracefully is part of any writer's process, so make it work for you!