The Fear of Feedback (By Leah Anderson, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant)


The Fear of Feedback

By Leah Anderson, P.O.W.E.R. Consultant


“No matter how productively you managed to get words down on paper or how carefully you have revised, no matter how shrewdly you figured your audience and purpose and suited your words to them, there comes the time when you need feedback” (Elbow, 1998, p. 237).


This is my confession. I have a fear of feedback. A debilitating fear of feedback, in fact. It is ironic that I am a P.O.W.E.R writing consultant who provides feedback to people regarding their writing, yet I myself am afraid of feedback on my own work. Just the thought of having to show my writing to someone makes me start to sweat. Simply writing this blog on the importance of feedback increases my heart rate and I am currently looking for the nearest table to climb under and hide.


My fear of feedback stems from my experience in ninth grade English class. I wrote an essay about my father, the person I admire the most. I never claimed to be an amazing writer, but I turned in that paper with confidence; proud of my dad and proud of the paper I wrote about him. My confidence and pride were short-lived as my essay was quickly returned riddled with red ink, reminiscent of a scene from Dexter. No positive comments were found, except one stating that my dad sounded like a wonderful man. My dad is a wonderful man, but that paper was my “kill room”, and that experience certainly killed my desire for feedback. To this day I avoid getting feedback at all possible costs and only seek it when absolutely necessary. Sadly, my experience soured me to something extremely beneficial. Clearly I recognize its importance and understand the purpose it serves. My rational side knows this, at least. This rational side knows that one must schedule writing time each day, write quickly and edit slowly, log writing time, and it knows that the first draft is always awful. I understand these things, have practiced them, and attest to the fact that they work. My rational side also knows that feedback is not meant to break one down, or diminish one’s self esteem, but it is meant to flesh out ideas, and to make one’s writing even more powerful and of stronger quality. It is my irrational side, however, that overpowers the rational. This irrational side is full of fear. Fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, and as long as this fear exists, the rational side will struggle to see the light of day.


I’ve recently realized that I procrastinate writing projects and avoid finishing them in a timely manner because I fear the inevitable feedback component. These fears have controlled me for far too long. I can’t be afraid of feedback anymore, and I can’t let it define or control me. It is time that I start my feedback recovery and find those people whom I can ask for feedback from, because as Goodson (2013) says, “Developing social support for your writing is the second healthiest step you can take to improve your writing quality…” (p. 90).


The process of finding a feedback support system is similar to finding a therapist. The first step is finding someone trustworthy to share one’s writing with, because writing is a vulnerable experience and putting it all out there and opening oneself up can be scary!!! Goodson (2013) suggests brainstorming a list of people with whom one feels comfortable with and contacting those people and asking for help. I started my list today. She then recommends scheduling time with those chosen people and asking for specific feedback on certain things, and then reflecting on that feedback session, and making changes to the writing project as necessary. Seems simple and manageable. She also stresses the importance of seeking feedback from different people, with different backgrounds, because it is these unique perspectives and strengths that enhance one’s final product. My list is becoming more diverse as I write this. It is also these different people who can provide different kinds of feedback such as criterion-based feedback, which looks at content quality, organization, and language choice, or reader-based feedback, which looks at what happened in the reader, and involves summarizing the piece, and creating images (Elbow, 1998).  These are my new principles, and no longer will I be debilitated by insecurities and fears (I hope, I hope!). I have been stagnant in my writing for far too long, and growth will only occur if I open myself up to the process and make myself vulnerable to the feedback experience, because I won’t make progress and get closer to my goal if I don’t conquer this fear. I need feedback, I am building my support system, and I promise to read something of theirs if they read something of mine. That was my confession, and now I begin my recovery.


Useful resources regarding the feedback process:

Elbow, P. (1998). Writing with power: Techniques for mastering the writing process (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Goodson, P. (2013). Becoming an academic writer: 50 exercises for paced, productive, and powerful writing. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.