5 Steps to Taming the Writing Ego (When You Get Harsh Feedback)

Wrecking Ball hitting brick wallOn the one hand, as a writing coach and teacher, I ask students to go to their most vulnerable place, to reach deep down in their soul and risk everything they’ve got. Otherwise, their writing voice won’t sound authentic and most likely—they won’t get noticed.

As writers, we simply have to risk, and risk often.

On the other hand, I ask students to take said risk-filled material—in which they have possibly exposed themselves in a very personal way—and put it up for review.

It’s sort of an insane process.

Passionate, vulnerable, emotional writers + critique = not so great recipe.

In fact, this recipe often leads to shutting down, lack of listening (hearing the feedback) and sometimes meltdowns and tantrums. In my experience, no one wants to work with or be around a TTW. (Temperamental-Tantrum-Writer.)

The critique process has been going on for thousands of years and is vital to the writing process. You simply can’t know what you have communicated until you get out of your brain and hear how others are experiencing your material.

So how do you use the critique process without stomping your feet, going insane (or pretending you don’t care) so you can actually benefit from it?

I have five steps for you:

  1. Do your best to recognize when the ego is at play. You can train yourself to recognize when the ego is popping up. Just recognizing it is an important first step in taming the damn thing. (Ego thoughts can sound like: No, they are wrong, how could they say that to me? They just don’t get it. I am being attacked here. They are stupid. If only they read other pages, they would get it. This is unfair. I’m getting out of here.) When you recognize the ego taking over your brain just breathe in and out. That’s it.
  2. Recognize WHY you are receiving feedback. To get better. You are putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation to grow. That’s the bottom line.
  3. Switch hats. Today’s writer must wear many hats: the creator, the editor, the promoter, the marketer, etc. It’s vital to realize that when you are receiving feedback, you should not be in your creator-writer space. Put the editor hat on.
  4. Do the “Two Minute Rant, Take a Walk” method. Yep, it’s just what it sounds like.

⇒ If you are alone, rant to your pillow, or write out all of your angry thoughts. Get it all out. Get out the most childish tantrum-y thoughts you got. Then take a walk. Don’t respond. Take as much time as you possibly have before responding. You want to respond from your wisest self.

⇒ If you are in a group, it’s a little harder. You can rant inside your unhappy brain. But then, you might miss out on valuable feedback. When in a group, I suggest postponing the rant. Keep the editor’s hat on, don’t argue back no matter what and take notes. Even if you don’t agree: take notes. When you calm down, you will want to remember what was said.

  1. Let it go for a few days. Approach the material when you are fresh. Allow the critique to settle in. Don’t start writing thinking you will fix the problem in a few minutes. Often, you will need to come up with a new approach.

The good news: it does get easier! You do get acclimated to the process and stop taking it all so personally.