Getting feedback for the first time can be scary. We’ve all been there, worrying about “Will my audience like my stuff? What if they spot something I missed?“, and if you suspect that your work isn’t any good, this fear is magnified. But let me ask a question: how often do we give ourselves a break and open up to the exciting idea that we’ll get positive, or at least constructive feedback?
The key element here is shame. Shame shuts us away and stops us from trying new activities, especially activities that involve other people. I want to show you how to overcome feelings of shame to get good, detailed, and extremely helpful feedback for your story.
First, I want to define shame. The online dictionary defines shame as:
"The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc."
I particularly like this description of shame by supervising Transactional Analyst Fanita English:
"When [a person] feels ashamed, the first reaction is physiological. He blushes, he perspires, his heart beats faster, his breathing changes, he has circulatory and other bodily changes that temporarily inhibit speech and/or action or explanation. To feel ashamed is to have a psychosomatic reaction."
Who would want to put themselves through that?
Today I want to talk about how you can benefit from seeking feedback to lower your stress levels - which are triggered by shame - and help you enjoy your craft all the more. I’m going to talk about how getting feedback is actively good for you, and is even good for your mental health.
First of all, some science about stress. The parasympathetic nervous system is part of your peripheral nervous system. We also affectionately call it the "rest and digest", or "feed and breed" system because that's exactly what it does: it conserves your energy, slows your heart rate, and overall promotes a bodily state where you can relax and do all the things you need to do to take care of yourself. It also kicks in when we’re extremely stressed to numb us to whatever is causing us pain.
The sympathetic nervous system exists to stimulate your body's fight, flight and freeze response. Although it's always active to some degree or another, its function is at odds with your parasympathetic nervous system.
Think of it like a traffic light system. When you’re in a relaxed ‘green’ state your parasympathetic nervous system is active. When you’re in an ‘amber’ state - anxious, stressed, or in physical pain - your sympathetic nervous system becomes active enough for you to notice. If you happen to go into the ‘red’ zone - feeling as if your life is in danger, your parasympathetic nervous system becomes extra-active again and makes your body flood itself with opioids to relax you.
That’s not an ideal situation as it’s the equivalent of our ancestors playing dead when they were caught by a predator. I hope you don’t reach those levels of stress when you’re seeking feedback for your writing, but I decided to include this part for those of you who do.
Asking for feedback gets you talking with your readers, and if you don’t have any readers yet, it gets you talking to your potential readers. A more engaged audience is likely to read for longer and return to the work you’ve already done to check for updates. There’s no harm in approaching somebody for feedback if you have a reason to think they might be interested in what you have to offer. For example when I first uploaded Flamingos, I approached 130 of my Watchers on Furaffinity and Deviantart, asking for reviews. They each had those two qualities that gave me reason to believe that they would be happy to hear from me.
I got 40 Private Message replies, all of them either friendly or neutral in tone. Out of those, 19 actually reviewed my work. Some of those were in the comments section for the chapter, and some were given in Private Messages.
Because we’re talking about shame I want to point out that it’s possible for your readers to feel ashamed when you approach them. Not everybody feels confident about writing reviews, so you might want to try asking specific questions. When I asked for feedback about my Flamingos story I asked the following:
I got a lot of information that I wouldn’t have, had I not asked these questions.
Some still didn’t feel comfortable leaving a written review, so they clicked Fave instead. I personally always accept Faves and Likes precisely to avoid shaming my readers. While I love reviews, there’s no reason why a person owes me on, and a shamed reader isn’t likely to come back. So long as I make sure my readers have a good time, I believe the overall Like score will check out.
You're great at finding the words to describe your experience in reading a story, but your reviewers might not be. Let 'em off the hook!
Feedback is fantastic for your growth as a writer. It tells you where you're going right and where you can improve. It gets you out of your own perspective and invites others to contribute theirs. Getting fresh eyes on your work like that, is an invaluable resource.
Knowing that you’re good at writing, art, or whatever your passion is, and that you can handle any challenge that’s thrown at you, avoids stimulating your sympathetic nervous system - your ‘amber’ state - which means lower stress levels for you.
There’s no shame in not yet being an expert in something, and development of expertise generally requires us to seek help from experts. If you’re nervous about asking for reviews then you’re unlikely to be affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect, but it’s worth being aware anyway that it’s very easy to misjudge your level of expertise. Reviews help you to assess your skill more realistically.
Don’t beat yourself up if you feel nervous about showing off your writing. Showing off your writing is a big deal! That’s your skill on display, and it’s only natural to want to protect yourself from hearing what other people have to say about it. But reviews can also be wonderful things, and remind us that we’re not alone with our pens, paper, and screens.
Go and find a handful of reviewers and hear what they have to say. You never know: they might just make your month! Try Project Comment on Deviantart if you want to make a start.
Doc Talbot's web site
Kruger, J., Dunning, D., 'Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments', 1999, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77 (6): 1121-1134
See also: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.64.2655
English, F., 'Shame and social control', 1975, TAJ 5:1
Artwork by Menaria