Ron’s post about the screenwriter is a great case study of someone who knows how to take feedback.
I got a lot of practice processing feedback when I worked in public relations and museums. I found plenty of press releases in my inbox that were covered in red marks. I presented text blurbs of 50 words or less at meetings where ten people would then edit-by-committee. I handled phone calls like the following:
Person who hasn’t read the text, but wants to give a contract to a friend: “Why don’t we hire a professional writer for this?
Me: “We did, and it’s me.”
After a while, a writer gets a sense for which edits you just do—and there are plenty of those. You might implement them because they clearly make a piece of writing better and you’re learning something for next time. Or you might do them because they are a bugaboo of whoever gave the edits. Really, who wants to waste time arguing about “however” vs. “nevertheless”?
Some edits you don’t implement exactly as is recommended, but you do something else instead. Whoever is reading the piece may notice that something isn’t working, and they may suggest a “fix.” Writers should accept this information for what it is—another person’s best thinking of the moment. It’s the writer’s job to get deep enough into the piece to know how to best solve the problem, but we can give credit where it’s due to the editor for flagging the issue.
There are times when another agenda at work, but that’s the rarest case, and it’s pretty easy to tell.
Learning how to take feedback is like anything else. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. If we really open ourselves up to feedback, then we’ll be able to recognize and appreciate sensible advice when it comes–and our writing will be better for it.