How to Handle Difficult Feedback – Four Tips for Writers

I’ve got a great topic to discuss today: how to handle difficult feedback.

I’ve had to deal with difficult feedback more times than I can remember. 😭 You too? There’s always the urge put the damn thing away and move on to something else until you feel braver, right? 

But what if you never feel brave enough?

What if it takes you 6 months or more? That’s a lot of time to waste.

What if you’ve been commissioned and you have to do a rewrite fast? You can’t spend days wallowing in self-loathing. You have to act immediately.

But how?

I’ve identified 4 quick steps to calm your mind and body and help you handle difficult feedback fast.
The great thing about these steps is they don’t take very long. Maximum, 30 minutes. So if you write for TV and are on a deadline, you can still go through the process, and then get back to the rewrite quickly and in a much better state of mind.

Even if you don’t write for TV, these steps will save you a lot of time and heartache.  I hope you’ll find them helpful.

Why bother with feedback?

If we want to improve as a writer and enhance the piece we’re working on, it’s hard to do without feedback.

Yes, we can take courses, read how-to books and study other people’s work, but if we never actually share our work, and ask for honest feedback, we’re unlikely to get better.
So feedback is essential. But, it can often be hard to swallow.

Whether you’ve spent a year on a piece of writing, or only a day, it’s come out of your head and your heart and feels precious. We’re inclined to protect it. We don’t want it to be criticised or attacked, because it feels like we’re being attacked. 

Let’s explore the emotions around feedback


Firstly, we might feel TERROR at the mere thought of even sharing our work. This is a big obstacle in the way of self-improvement. 


Next, as we listen to (or read) the feedback, we might feel DEFENSIVE or even ANGRY, inclined to dispute every point or explain why we wrote what we wrote. 

How dare they be so rude about my script?! Why didn’t they get it? Are they dumb or something?!

This closes us off to the insights being shared. We literally don’t hear what the person has to say. All we can think is 

I have to be right, otherwise, it means I’m a failure!! Agghh!!
But let’s say we trust the person’s opinion. (And by the way, we don’t have to agree with all the feedback we’re given. If you don’t agree, consider getting a 2nd opinion. However, if readers keep saying the same thing, you know they’ve got a point. (QUICK TIP – Don’t just go to friends and family for feedback, if they’re obliged to say nice things!)


But let’s say this person is experienced, they know what they’re talking about and we trust their opinion. If they have critical things to say, there’s a fair chance we’ll feel SHAME, EMBARRASSMENT or even HUMILIATION.

I should never have sent this out. I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy of being a writer. I’m wasting my time. They think I’m rubbish. They’re laughing at me behind my back for even trying. What was I thinking? It’s so embarrassing. I may as well give up now!
And on and on.

But these are thoughts, not facts. Our mind is making up a story, triggered by negative emotions. 

Our bodies are flooded with these negative feelings. Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed that we ditch the piece we’re working on and move on to something else entirely.
Other times it’s years before we pick up a pen again.

What a waste. 
But if a producer or publisher has commissioned us, we may not have much choice but to get it rewritten, and fast. All this mental torment will cause us to procrastinate, killing the precious time we need to carry out a decent rewrite ready for the deadline.
So what do we do?

We must learn to manage the negative emotions in order to hear the feedback and address the essential points. Here are some quick and simple strategies that have worked wonders for me. 

Four quick steps to help you navigate tricky emotions, take on board difficult feedback and move on to your next draft fast. 

1. Name the Emotion

What are you feeling right now?

According to vulnerability researcher and best-selling author, Brené Brown,

Language shows us that naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding and meaning.

Brené Brown

By naming the emotion we somehow feel comforted and reassured by the crazy things going on in our mind and body.

So, sit quietly, slow down your breathing, and try to identify what you’re actually feeling. Name it. Maybe even write it down in a journal.

2. Accept the Emotion

Emotions are neither good nor bad, we don’t need to judge them. They just are.

Even the yucky ones have their uses. They help us learn something about ourselves.

So rather than shoving them away, trying to pretend they don’t exist, take a moment to accept the feeling, just as it is. Here’s what the best-selling author of Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert, has to say on the topic,

“It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes too.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

3. Forgive Yourself

We writers spend an awful lot of time slagging off our creative endeavours because they don’t live up to the beautiful ideas we conjure up in our imaginations. But the thing is, they never will, writing doesn’t work that way. It’s messy and imperfect.

So I was delighted to hear this quote about forgiveness from the best-selling author of The Dutch House, Ann Patchett,

“What is in my head is so beautiful, so moving, so important, but I cannot get what is in my head on paper. No-one can… You have to say, this is the best I could do today. And I forgive myself

Every time I go to work, I’m confronted by my lack of intelligence, and my lack of talent and if I never went to work I would not have to be confronted with those things. But I do, I go, I look, I break my heart and then I have something.”

Ann Patchett

4. Try Using Self-Compassion

Tying all these points together takes us to: self-compassion.

If you’re having trouble forgiving yourself, you might find some self-compassion exercises helpful. When I recently had to absorb a colossal amount of critical feedback and meet a rapid deadline, psychologist, Dr Kristin Neff’s self-compassion practises proved life-saving.  

Kristin has done masses of research into self-compassion, and talks about how well it can motivate us to reach an important goal.

The three components of self-compassion

  1.  Mindfulness – mindfully identify what you are going through. “I feel really embarrassed right now.” Then, drop out of your head and into your body. How does this emotion feel? For me, it’s often tingling in my tummy, like butterflies. Where do you feel it? And how does it feel?
  2. Common Humanity – remind yourself that it is only human to struggle, suffer and feel failure, and whatever you are going through, you are not alone.
  3. Kindness – talk to yourself as you would a friend. “This is really hard. I’m here for you.” Put a hand on your heart or give yourself a hug.

4. BONUS: TO HELP YOURSELF MEET A GOAL, use fierce self-compassion – ask yourself what you need to do right now? Cheer yourself on. Remind yourself that you can do it.

There are some fantastic, guided self-compassion meditations on Kristin’s self-compassion website (as well as some journaling exercises if you prefer).
If you’re trying self-compassion for the first time, I’d recommend trying the Self Compassion Break meditation.
But if you have a writing deadline and need to process the feedback and get back to writing fast, check out the Motivating Self Compassion Break meditation. It saved my life recently!
Once you’ve gone through this simple 4-step process, you will hopefully feel calmer and your mind will have stopped racing.  So the next step is to ACT!

Tackling the Rewrite

  • Go through the feedback dispassionately.
  • Make a list of all the points you have to address.
  • Work through them, one small chunk at a time. If you try to do it all at once, it can feel confusing and overwhelming. 

When approaching a big rewrite, I’d recommend going through this step-by-step process, addressing your emotions, as often as you need to – possibly daily. Starting each writing session in this way will save you a lot of time procrastinating.
And don’t forget to cheer yourself on for every little success, even just sitting down to write 1 sentence or paragraph. That feeling of success will motivate you to keep going.  
I hope you’ve found this step-by-step approach helpful. So next time you receive some disappointing feedback, give it a try and let me know how you get on.


I offer feedback, and I make a point to critique with compassion because I’ve been there. If you’re interested, you can find out more here.

And if you’re struggling to make progress with your writing or networking, perhaps you can’t stop procrastinating, or your inner critic is out of control, I’d love to support you with some 1:1 coaching. Check out my website, or sign up for a quick call to talk things over.

Katy provided a detailed (reasonably priced) critique on my 90-minute film script. After I took on board her comments and tackled a rewrite, I’m thrilled to say that my script, Once A Thief, won Best First-time Feature Scriptwriting Award, at the Berlin International Screenwriting Festival. So, thank you, Katy.

Benita Cullingford


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *