Why You Should Always Listen to Feedback
It may be unsolicited, but it still could be invaluable advice
What do we write for?
If you make a living opening up in print about universal human truths yet act all offended when readers dare make comments or suggestions, what do you write for? Is it because you enjoy the sound of your own voice and seeing your name in print?
Articulating our shared humanity is how we engage with and relate to one another. When someone offers their perspective on my work, I want to hear what they have to say. There’s always the possibility that someone who isn’t me may see things more clearly than I do; experience also counts for something.
To a large extent, my writing is a counterintuitive way of crowdsourcing the therapy I haven’t yet been able to afford. Documenting how major depressive disorder can wreck every single aspect of a person’s life and psyche is how I’m rebuilding a life that works, word by word.
To me, writing means reaching out to others and building bridges.
If you don’t welcome feedback then why don’t you write a journal? Otherwise, why be so quick to dismiss readers’ comments, especially when your income is based on an audience engagement model?
Of course, mutual respect is the byword here.
When I wrote about my sex life becoming a dead bedroom, I wasn’t thrilled about the comment from a man who suggested that I, wife, should submit to my husband, on religious grounds, because our bodies — allegedly — belonged to each other.
That I’m staunchly secular did not help. This reader felt entitled to their opinion, and if I hadn’t wanted to hear it, I would have disabled comments altogether. Thankfully, such incidents are rare and this one gave me the opportunity to clear the air and make a case for equality.
It was a little unsettling but not a complete waste of time, if only because I became aware people like him existed.
As long as people want to share how they feel and what they know, I’m generally happy to read it.
Some words from a well-meaning stranger could even alter the way you deal with an issue.
When I wrote about how depression was akin to being embroiled in an ongoing war, a reader suggested it may be more like a peacekeeping mission. Her take was so generous and so full of hope that I’ve been mulling it over ever since.
Were it not for her, I would never have thought of reframing the mental gymnastics involved in managing my condition as enforcing a truce between the parasite in my head and me. To me, depression feels like being under siege and subjected to ongoing attempts to hijack my thought process; this was all I could focus on for the longest time.
I didn’t have enough critical distance to see the situation differently, but this reader did. Someone else’s input can enrich your understanding of a particular predicament and even of your own self.
Writing means spending a lot of time in your own head, and the kind of personal storytelling many of us practice also involves using our own life as material. With this kind of work, it’d be easy to sink into solipsism without even noticing.
While I am in control of how I share my narrative, I don’t get to decide what emotions it might trigger in readers or how anyone might react in print. Rather than systematically dismiss comments on the basis that readers are not me and they only know what I’m willing to share, I’m curious to a fault.
My experience of being a human in the world isn’t the only one there is, and chances are what I’m dealing with is familiar to someone else out there. Ergo, you probably have some useful information I yet have to discover.
And after all, we don’t know what we don’t know.
Praise be to those who take the time to chime in with a few words and the odd suggestion.
Attention is a gift and so is the willingness to share knowledge and drop wisdom on the off-chance it might help somebody else.
Although I’m currently not the best at replying to comments because of extenuating circumstances and variable geographical coordinates, I read and appreciate them all. That someone will offer me a few minutes of their time and spare a thought for me is not something I take for granted.
Journalism teaches you that writing is service. Although what I do now is a lot more personal than previous press work, I apply the same ethos. When I took to the page to try and pull myself out of illness and hardship, it was on the understanding people would remain at the heart of what I do.
When writing about depression, my goal is to make a dent in the stigma surrounding mental illness. By being as outspoken as I can, I’m hoping others might open up so no one ever has to suffer in silence as I did for five years.
It may sound like I have a good grasp of my situation now but it varies from one day to the next — as befits chronic mental illness — and I’ll never be above needing advice. No one is.
What makes advice unsolicited is that I never explicitly ask for it.
But the adjective itself holds no pejorative connotation for me in the context of my online work.
To achieve our full potential, we all need to keep learning, independently and from one another. Uncommon solutions to common problems are often the result of collaboration and happenstance.
Writing is a radical act of human communication. You do not write at people, you write to and for people.
If you’re lucky, people will even write back.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.