Last weekend at the Festival of Faith and Writing, Ann Kroeker and I led a Festival Circle (discussion group) called “Advance Your Writing through Giving and Getting Feedback.” We talked about what feedback is helpful at each stage of the writing process and who might be the best person to ask. We offered some suggestions like the National Writing Project’s “bless, address, press” approach and Alice LaPlante’s “exercised-based revision” from The Making of a Story.

Some participants shared stories about feedback they received that was really helpful, while many others talked about getting feedback that was too harsh, too critical, or too personal. We also talked about the dilemma of getting contradictory feedback, which often happens to me in my local writing group. All of this discussion about the kind of feedback we often receive about our writing led to a few other questions, like how and when should you respond to feedback? And this: When should you ignore feedback?

Interestingly, today’s blog post by Seth Godin is all about processing feedback. “If you listen to none of the feedback, you will learn nothing,” he writes. On the other hand, “if you listen to all of it, nothing will happen,” especially if the feedback sends you in different directions.

Godin suggests coming up with two categories for the feedback: feedback you seek and feedback you aren’t interested in. Then, respond accordingly, he suggests. Over time, you will likely be able to discern between the two. I have a few ideas of my own for how you should respond. The more closely you identify with another writer’s style and content, the more likely they are to speak into the work you are doing. If your issues are technical, then you will want to defer to those who have the greatest technical ability. If an editor or paid professional is serving as a gatekeeper for your work, then you must decide for yourself how far you are willing to adapt to be published.

Mostly, though, my advice is this: pay attention. Pay attention to all the feedback you receive. When you get positive feedback, discern what is working and do more of that. When you get negative feedback or mixed responses, discern what isn’t working and attempt to correct it. Your reviewers can help identify problems, even if their solutions don’t work.

What about you? How do you respond to writing feedback? Leave a comment (or if you received this as an email, just hit reply). I’d love to hear your ideas.