On Feedback Trauma
Are you suffering from feedback trauma? I don’t just mean hurting over bad reviews, but an experience so awful you feel like a ‘bad’ writer beyond redemption. These traumatic feedback experiences may include but aren’t limited to …
- Vitriolic feedback and script reports from paid-for readers and contests
- Screenwriting ‘gurus’ holding up your writing as an example of what NOT to do in classes and online
- Industry pros shutting you down / dismissing you in pitch meetings
- Industry pros telling you ‘no one cares’ about subjects dear to your heart in your writing
- Beta readers and peer reviewers sending shitty emails telling you that you’re a ‘garbage person’ for writing the piece in the first place and then blocking you online
- Industry pros telling you your writing has ‘no spark’ or is generic
- Industry pros telling you that you’ll never get anywhere and might as well quit
This all means you end up second-guessing yourself and question if you can ‘ever’ get anywhere. Your confidence has been so skewered it may even stop you making submissions for a while, or make you quit forever.
I’ve lived it myself. Sadly I’ve seen it happen to others too, again and again and again.
Yes, Really: Feedback Trauma
I know what you may be thinking … ‘People suffer REAL trauma every day! Don’t minimise their suffering by comparing these awful experiences to getting negative feedback on a bloody piece of writing!’
First off, I know real-life trauma is bad. As any Bangers who’ve followed my life story know, I’ve literally lived it. More than once too … I frequently joke that if I put all my shitty life experiences into a fictional character, editors would not believe it and call it ‘inorganic’. (‘She’s a teenage mother AND a cancer survivor AND has severe mental health issues as a result of abuse? How many stories is that?? PICK ONE!”).
Secondly, people who’ve suffered trauma in their non-writing lives tend to have higher levels of internalised shame. This means negative feedback really CAN produce feelings of being ‘lesser than’ or a ‘bad person’.
Hell, it can even stop them writing altogether. When writing can be SO therapeutic for people who have been traumatised, this seems like an epic own goal.
No, I Don’t Mean Constructive Criticism
Constructive criticism is the lifeblood of great development. I teach this on my script reading course because … OBVIOUSLY.
That said, unfortunately most people don’t really know how to give constructive criticism. They get fixated on the ‘criticism’ aspect and forget about the ‘constructive’ part. Yet constructive literally means ‘having or intended to have a useful or beneficial purpose.’
Also as a script editor, I often have to break it to writers where they’re going ‘wrong’. Note how I put the last word in the sentence in inverted commas. This is because there are multiple ways to tell a story, which means my feedback is just that … MY feedback. Nothing more, nothing less.
Nothing B2W ever says to writers is set in stone. I’m very aware of the fact that as soon as someone says something is NOT ‘the done thing’ in writing, someone will come along and blow us all out the water by doing **that thing**.
B2W Best Practices
The stereotype of the writer who goes nuclear at feedback and won’t change their draft is everywhere online. Whilst these writers definitely do exist, there’s another type of writer that is far more common.
Sometimes writers will defer to me and say I’m ‘the expert’, so they ‘must’ be bad writers if I have a lot of notes for them.
It’s important for writers to understand feedback is not inherently ‘bad’. Done properly, it should be a neutral to good experience. Notes should feel empowering, not undermining. Whether you get lots of notes or just a few shouldn’t change this.
Also I might be an expert, but this is because this is my job. I literally think about writing craft non-stop. I am lucky enough to be immersed in the writing world 24/7.
Most writers don’t have this privilege. They are balancing day jobs and other commitments, such as caring for children and or elderly or sick relatives. On top of that, they may have other challenges such as disability, mental illness, financial insecurity and a host of other things.
So of course they have limited bandwidth. They may be writing it in tiny increments during lunch breaks, or when their kid is in the bath. They have to prioritise getting words on paper. They simply don’t have time to consider every single angle of a story.
This is okay. That’s why writers come to B2W: I can offer those perspectives and help them transform their story.
B2W’s style of feedback
As a writer myself, I know the effort and sacrifices it takes to get words on paper. This means I try and be as nurturing as I can giving feedback on people’s writing.
First off, I will tell the writer what I like or even love about their story. As a trained teacher, it was impressed upon us that students need this reassurance UPFRONT. Start with the negative and they can only hear that, even if you compliment them later. I have taken this tip into working with writers and found this to be 100% true.
My next step is to ask the writer questions about things that happen **in the story**. I may make reference to various page numbers, or towards big picture stuff like the structure as whole. This won’t necessarily be so they can answer me in the moment, but to consider as they are redrafting. It also makes them realise I am interrogating the work, NOT them.
B2W always offers multiple ways of approaching the story
I will ask the writer to consider what drew them to the idea, theme, or particularly character in the first place. I will stress this is THEIR story and they know what is best for it. This is because it’s not my job to persuade them to rewrite towards MY preferences. Good script readers and editors should never, ever hijack another writer’s vision.
In addition, I will summarise/recap my notes for them because many writers feel like they are reeling (especially if there are a lot of notes). I break it down into workable steps for the next draft. These ‘bitesize chunks’ often feel more manageable.
Lastly, when writers express dismay or seem despondent, I deliver some of my own industry experiences as a writer or as a person. I will tell them everyone goes through this, even people who have sold lots of stories. I will also draw attention to various high profile things that have happened in the writing world that may be relevant too. Later I may drop them an email to see how they’re doing. 9/10 the Banger feels much less despondent and upbeat about their notes.
In other words, I try as hard as I can to tell the writer …
- This is THEIR story, not mine
- That any issues in the story is not THEIR personal failing or flaw
- Any feedback I have is based on *my* experience/training, no one else’s
- That they GOT THIS
Sure, not every writer gets this message from me. Sometimes their disappointment their draft needs work obliterates anything I can do for them. I am not super-human.
But I would venture the average B2Wer feels supported and that they CAN rewrite the piece into what they want it to be.
How To Get Over Feedback Trauma
So you’ve had feedback that sends you into a tailspin / makes you want to quit. Here’s how to deal with feedback trauma …
1) Put the offending feedback to one side
If it came in an email, put it in a folder so you don’t have to see it every time you log in. If it came on a thread online, unfollow it (but save the link somewhere, you will need it later). Or maybe it came in so-called ‘real life’? Then don’t dwell on it, delete it from your brain – for now – by doing something fun to console yourself.
2) Wait at least 2 weeks before reading/ revisiting again
Often when we feel traumatised by feedback, we discover it’s only half as bad as we remember. That’s not to excuse the shitty feedback-givers; far from it. Instead, viewing that feedback in a more objective frame of mind may reveal the feedback-giver is the one with the problem. We may see they’re narky AF or that they have some kind of agenda.
3) Ask yourself WHY you’re upset
Don’t deny the pain of bad feedback. Acknowledge that pain and sit with it. Sure, the style of feedback may be bullshit and shaming, but are you upset because they have a point? Or are you upset because you feel like they’re against you?
If the former, they’re right no matter how they delivered it. If the latter, you’re right and should avoid asking that person for feedback in the future.
4) Ask your friends / peers who’ve also read your piece of writing
I always forward my shitty feedback to my trusted readers so I can get a second opinion. 8/10, my friends will rally round telling me the shitty feedback-giver can suck balls and shove a rabbit up their bum. They will draw attention to how wrong the reviewer is, reminding me of what I first conceived for the story.
However, 2/10 my circle may raise another interesting point … they will agree the style of the feedback is SHIT but will admit the feedback-giver might have a point about XYZ based on stuff they have now considered as a result.
This is why having an honest peer review circle can be so valuable: we can get a decent ego-check!
Don’t have a feedback circle? No problem – join B2W on Teachable and share your woes HERE. We might not have read your script or novel, but we will come running with the moral support when you feel like quitting.
5) Get back on the horse
I can’t stress this enough. If you feel derailed by feedback trauma, DON’T give up.
No one has the right to tell you that you’re a bad writer who should quit. NO ONE. It doesn’t matter if they are an Oscar-winner or some rando on the internet.
So by all means lick your wounds if you have feedback trauma. You deserve it. But don’t let the arseholes stop you. Get back on the horse, even if you don’t feel like it yet. Push forwards and leave shitty feedback-givers in your wake.
Want MORE Script Reading Secrets?
My course with LondonSWF, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is back for 2022! It’s perfect not only for wannabe script readers, but also savvy writers who want to know how script readers work. Can you afford to miss out??
CLICK HERE for full details of the course this June (or on the pic on the right), including feedback from past delegates. We expect it to sell out again, so act now to avoid disappointment.