The Fear of Feedback

I’ve worked as a professional communicator for the past decade and have dealt with feedback from various audience members and quickly learned how to handle that. Often, that feedback came in the form of negative comments—”you should have put a comma here,” or, “you should have used a semicolon there,” or “do you have to use that picture of me?”

Dealing with that feedback was more an exercise in relationship management than it was in receiving feedback.

Now that I’m pursuing creative/fiction writing, the idea of feedback, from anyone other than my husband, has been largely frightening on a couple levels.

First, my stories are me on a page. Some of my stories are dark and gritty. Some have wild sex. Will people think this is me? Some have a lot of profanity. Okay, so not this one. I do swear a lot. That is me. But you know what I mean.

But then there’s the technical feedback. Am I really a good storyteller? Are my characters believable, and more than that, can people empathize with them? Is my writing engaging?

When I started this pursuit six months ago, I made a commitment to myself that I was done writing things that just ended up in a completed folder on my laptop. If I was going to spend the time writing something, I was going to try to find an audience for it. Bottom line.

This pushed me way out of my comfort zone. I actually can’t recall sharing any of my creative writing with anyone other than my husband, who despite being more critical than most partners, still knows I need to hear that my work is good. Now it was time for strangers to respond.

My first Medium post documented my success in finishing my first major creative work—a screenplay. While I was working on the first draft, I found two competitions I intended to enter, which gave me a hard deadline to finish. I hunkered down and cut about 40 pages, getting it to a great length, and after debating some finer points with my husband, I felt like I had a really good first screenplay.

I ended up entering three competitions—Access Screenwriting Contest, Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition, and the Bluecat Screenplay Competition. I found the Bluecat competition while I was entering the first two and I entered that one because all entries received feedback.

I marked the date on my calendar when I was to expect feedback and as the day closed in, my anxiety built. What if they hated it? What if they said I should go back to my day job because I was neither a screenwriter or a storyteller?

The email hit my inbox and I just stared at it, all bold and demanding that I click it. I steeled myself and clicked the link.

My fear was replaced by excitement as I read the first sentence: “The script has a solid romantic comedy premise.”

Yay! I didn’t blow it! The email had four paragraphs detailing what they liked and five describing what they thought still needed work. And the best part? They really read it. Most of the notes were very specific with suggestions, such as, “on page 44, maybe…”

And out of all of the suggestions, there’s only one point that, as the storyteller, I feel would alter the story, but if holding my ground on this point was what kept me from advancing, I’m sure I could find a way to concede the point.

The best part was knowing that someone else not only read my work but read it carefully enough to make specific suggestions. They appeared to care about my story and my characters. The validation beyond my imagination.

Now, I still don’t know if I advanced in any of the competitions—the finalist announcement dates are still a ways off, but now that I’ve received my first real feedback, I’m hooked! I want more of it and can’t wait to send out more work for others to read.

This is why we write, right? To share our ideas and stories? I know that’s why I write. Now I need to get back to it!

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Amy Pinkston is a writer and recovering higher education communicator. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband and their two cats. She’s on Twitter @amypinkston.

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