When I finish a draft, I want to hear how a reader reacts to my thinking and the way I’ve expressed it. I know from experience that this feedback will help make my next draft clearer and more effective.

But knowing feedback’s value doesn’t keep me from pushing back against what I’m hearing, from thinking, momentarily, “What’s wrong with you that you couldn’t follow what I was saying?!’

I’m not proud of this reaction. Anyone who offers me an honest account of his reading gives me a great gift. I shouldn’t be insulting. Nor should I be arguing with the experience. And yet, inevitably, for brief (and sometimes not-so-brief) moments, I find myself doing both.

Over time, I’ve adopted two strategies to help me be more more open-minded.

First, I make sure I put space between the act of creation and the moment of feedback. Even stepping away for an hour helps me see my work more objectively. The longer I step away, the better. When I can, I plan these pauses in my project timeline.

Second, I identify two or three questions I hope my reader will answer. The questions change depending on where in the process I am and the problem areas I see in the draft, but this practice helps me approach my work more critically. My readers also tell me that the questions help them focus their feedback.

I will likely never extinguish my first, prideful response to feedback. But I also know that without feedback, I’ll stop growing. So I keep trying to embrace inquiry over argument and open myself more fully to the experience of my readers, friends, colleagues, and strangers. Some days, I’m better at this than others, but I take comfort in knowing that I’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice and improve.


Steve Brown

Contributing Faculty

The Writers’ Exchange