Create. Measure. Improve. Repeat.
If you run your own business (or you’ve created your own app or software as a service), you may be familiar with the process of feedback loops — you create a product, study how it performs, determine any opportunities for improvement, and then implement the changes. This process might happen a few times before your product is at a point where you don’t need to make changes constantly.
So many organizations use feedback loops, whether it’s at the production level, the team level, or the customer service level. Having some type of loop of information can help a business make meaningful changes within their company and provide the best product possible.
Businesses even go through the effort of pestering their customers for feedback, that’s how much they want to find out what they need to improve on. How many times have you visited Facebook or any other social media app and it asks you how you’ve liked a new update or new feature? How many emails are currently sitting in your inbox (or maybe your Spam folder by this point) with the title “We Want Your Feedback!”? The answer: probably a lot.
It’s not because businesses love to hear what they’re doing “wrong” or enjoy being berated by customers. It’s because they know that any feedback, positive or negative (but especially negative), is essential for improvement.
Now, if you’re a writer, or you write for your business’s blog, you might be wondering, “What the hell do feedback loops and business operations have to do with writing?”
Well, it seems like there’s a major mindset difference in the way people approach their business compared to the way they approach their writing — especially with regard to receiving feedback.
Getting feedback on your writing is a touchy situation, whether you’re a writer by trade or a writer for your business’s blog or marketing content. Writing almost feels like an extension of yourself — it feels personal because you produced it. And when you receive notes on your writing that require you to overhaul the entire piece, it’s hard not to take this feedback personally, especially when you feel like you’ve spent so much time developing the article.
It’s true — when you get notes on a piece of writing you’ve created, it might mean that you have to spend a little extra time with the piece, instead of sending it straight to the blog and publishing it immediately. The feeling of instant gratification is gone when you have to slow down and revise your article. But if you publish it without considering any feedback, you’re taking the risk that it won’t make the impact that you originally hoped it would, thus making it almost pointless to produce in the first place!
Feedback often comes from a place of wanting to help — a place of trying to let the writer know what’s needed for improvement — so why does feedback on our writing sometimes cause us to feel frustrated or angry?
New writers and experienced writers receive feedback on their writing all the time — but how can you toughen yourself up and view feedback on your writing as a great thing, rather than a burden?
The biggest step is changing your mindset on writing itself. See it as yet another place where you need to establish a feedback loop in order to improve and create the best “product” possible.
It takes a lot of practice to change the way you view your writing and how you view yourself in relation to your writing. By incorporating some of these approaches to your writing, and to your blog, you might even find yourself enjoying the feedback you’re receiving, and it’ll help you become a stronger writer over time.
If you’re just starting your business, you might have heard of the Lean Startup method. Heck, maybe this is exactly how you run your business right now!
The Lean Startup method avoids the dangers of getting stuck in the product development stage of starting a new business, where you’re obsessed with making the perfect product before it ever actually gets into the hands of the audience you hope to reach. Instead, the Lean method looks at the first product as an experiment — you want your business to eventually answer the question, “Should this product be built?” And to do that, you’ll put your products through a feedback loop.
A Lean startup uses the feedback loop of “Build-Measure-Learn.” Once you’ve built a minimum viable product that you can test, you have something that will produce data that you can learn from. Adapting and learning as you go, and adjusting the product with each piece of feedback you receive, helps build a product, and thus a business, that’ll be set up for long-term success.
So, just like the way you would incorporate the Build-Measure-Learn concept into developing your own products, you can view your writing process, or the writing on your business’s blog, with the same methodology. Create a piece of writing with the expectation that there will be a feedback loop process — there will be comments from your editor (aka data) — and you can use that information to improve your writing (aka your product).
The best way to try out this mindset in your writing is to think of your first draft of an article as a “minimum viable product.” It’s the first thing you want to test with your audience — and lucky for you, your first audience for your writing is someone who wants to help you make it better. Just like how you’d throw your test product into the world, asking (almost begging) people to give you feedback on what they love and what they don’t, you can turn over your article to the helpful feedback of an editor.
Maybe the college instructor side of me is coming out here, but really, one of the biggest challenges to being receptive to feedback is the way that you’ve decided to think about writing in the first place. That mindset can be so ingrained, you may not even know that you view your writing that way.
Carol Dweck describes a fixed mindset as being where a person has decided that a basic trait, such as intelligence or the ability to write well, has already been determined and so no amount of effort can change it. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is where a person decides that their basic traits can be changed and developed through working hard. A growth mindset often encourages people to become motivated in their career, in school, and in life as a whole.
If you’re a writer with a fixed mindset, you view your writing ability as something that’s never going to change, no matter how much feedback someone gives you. You may not think you’re bad at writing, but you may think your writing is “fixed” the way it is, and you’re good enough, so that feedback won’t help you.
This mindset means that receiving feedback might be difficult for you, because it can feel like an editor is telling you to do something that you really don’t feel motivated to do. This type of mindset can become quite taxing if you’re trying to write for a business’s blog or if you have goals to make your content authoritative, but don’t want to put in the research or effort to achieve that.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Gee, that sounds just like me” — if so, you may want to work on developing more of a growth mindset about writing.
Developing a growth mindset about writing is critical to incorporating feedback loops into your writing process — if you can tell yourself that feedback will help you become a better writer, you’ll be more open to receiving feedback and incorporating it into your writing.
Great CEOs and business owners know that a growth mindset is vital to success — if you get stuck in a fixed mindset of thinking that you’re smart, talented, and successful enough to stop working hard, then your business won’t be able to grow.
Having this same growth mindset as a writer will prevent you from becoming stale and uninspired; instead, receiving feedback from your editor might spark even more creativity than you originally thought possible.
It’s easy to schedule a meeting to discuss the feedback you’ve received from others on your new product, or have a meeting with your team about feedback you’ve gotten after piloting a new app. Those meetings are often two-way conversations where you can interpret facial expressions and understand that the feedback you’re discussing is (hopefully) constructive and not meant to tear someone down.
You should also see the editing process as an opportunity for a conversation with your editor. Your article becomes the topic of conversation, and the feedback you’re receiving from an editor can be used to learn and rebuild parts of your writing to make it better.
It’s also easier to think about the editing process as a conversation with your editor because, honestly, having a conversation or “going for a cup of coffee” just sounds more casual than scheduling a meeting. And with a casual vibe comes a more laid-back, easy-going attitude … don’t worry, your editor isn’t about to reprimand you, they’re just sharing their thoughts on how to make your writing as great as it can possibly be.
Using document sharing programs like Google Docs can help this conversation happen, even if you’re separated by screens (or even by time zones). Your editor can leave comments and suggestions for you on your document so that if you really want to learn from the feedback, you can respond to the comments and start a conversation.
This conversation is especially helpful if you don’t understand a piece of feedback. Instead of misinterpreting the tone behind a comment as exasperated or angry, like, “This could be developed a little more,” you can ask your editor to clarify what they meant. With a better understanding of the feedback they’ve given you, it’s much easier to determine if you’ll be able to incorporate that feedback and adapt your writing to the new ideas.
Who ever thought a conversation could be so productive? (Besides those Pixar guys who came up with four of the most famous Pixar movies during one lunch meeting …)
It’s also helpful to see your article or content as always evolving, malleable, and changeable — at least until it’s published and posted.
Sometimes when we’re struck with a really awesome idea, it’s hard to let it go. This happens to me pretty often — I’ll come up with a pitch for a blog post and think it’s probably the best thing since chocolate pudding was invented.
But then I’ll chat about it with some friends — which can sometimes be a no-no — and realize that maybe this unique and revolutionary idea I have is not as great as I thought. My initial reaction when this happens is usually feeling defeated or bummed, but once I’ve given myself a day or so to mull over the feedback I’ve received on my idea, I can adjust and adapt the original idea and come up with something even stronger.
There are plenty of businesses and startups that pride themselves on being ever-changing, adaptable, and adjustable — so why not approach your writing with that same philosophy?
A great example of a company that takes this philosophy to the core of their business is IDEO. They’re invested in human-centered design for all of their products and services, aiming to solve problems through this approach. They see the brainstorming process as a time in which wild ideas are encouraged, so that the team can build on the ideas of each other.
Humans adapt to their environments and change as they go, and with a dynamic brainstorming process, IDEO embraces change and runs with it, all the way to the product development stages.
To apply this idea to your writing, realize that your first idea for an article — or maybe even the first full draft you come up with — may not be the best or the most exciting idea ever, and sometimes it’ll take 20 ideas in the brainstorming stage before you come up with gold.
Consider how you can build off ideas from your editor, or maybe even get inspired by a “wild” idea that someone throws at you. See how input and evolution can make your article stronger, more detailed, or more developed with research and enticing anecdotes.
There’s also the chance that you do run with a “wild” idea that someone suggests, and then you realize you don’t actually like it — that’s okay, too, but at least you gave it a shot. By being open to the ideas and suggestions of others, you’re allowing your ideas to evolve and flourish.
When a product doesn’t sell like you thought it would, or you receive complaints from customers about a product, it’s easier to not take it personally. There are so many other factors that contribute to why a product might not be as well-received as you anticipated, and sometimes those factors are out of your control.
With an article or a manuscript, though, it’s much harder to see things objectively when we receive feedback we don’t necessarily agree with. Maybe what we’ve written is something close to our hearts, or something we feel especially proud of, and receiving any type of feedback on it only makes us feel like we’re being “graded” at school, getting a mark off or a red pen crossing out something that feels like a brilliant idea. The problem is, though, when we take feedback that personally, we tend to block out information that might be useful to improving our writing.
To make the most of feedback, we need to see ourselves as separate from our writing. It’s like establishing boundaries between “work life” and “home life,” or incorporating a sense of mindful detachment, à la Buddhist philosophy.
You: over here, living and breathing on Earth. Your writing: over there, on your laptop.
Writing can feel like an extension of “you,” since it’s your ideas and thoughts materialized into words on a page. It makes sense — what other way can all those words and ideas in your mind feel real if you’re not writing them down or saying them aloud?
But in reality, and as painful as it may sound, your writing isn’t actually you — it’s content being used to represent a position on a topic. Having the mindset that you and your writing are “one entity” is the quickest way to feeling personally attacked when you get feedback from an editor. It makes it easier to get defensive in reaction to whatever criticism you receive, since of course you’ll defend yourself if you feel you’re being critiqued on a personal level!
As hippy-dippy as it sounds, it’s helpful to be open to the fluid and changing nature of writing as a thing separate from yourself.
Whether you’re a writer by trade or you write for your own business’s blog, the act of writing is almost always a creative and personal endeavor, no matter how closely it’s tied to profit or brand image. And more often than not, your content is going to be what connects you to your audience — either through a blog post, an engaging marketing email, or succinct, clear website copy.
That means there should be just as much thought and care put into the writing process as you’d put into developing a new product or service for your business, including placing your writing through a feedback loop.
The idea of seeing the writing process as a constant feedback loop might sound a bit dizzying (pun intended). But once you’ve adjusted your mindset to see the value behind feedback, it’s easier to see how your writing can become even better from a constant process of feedback and responding to new ideas.
Julia Hess graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Master of Arts degree in English. She has worked as a college writing tutor and instructor, a contractor at a major tech company, and a freelance editor and writer. An avid podcast listener, Julia provides editorial feedback, consultation, and detailed show notes for CYC’s podcast, Writers Rough Drafts.