Write of Passage (WOP), an online writing course and community changed my perspective on feedback. I started writing online in Chinese in 2021. I wrote about my journey as a digital nomad, as well as broader reflections on life. As much as I loved learning about myself through writing, I struggled to balance both excitement and fear whenever I hit publish. I hoped my article would inspire people facing the same challenges but please, I prayed to God, DON’T GIVE ME ANY FEEDBACK.
I was terrified of getting feedback until I joined Write of Passage. I learned a better approach to giving and receiving feedback that dramatically changed how I thought about sharing my work. This also enabled me to move past some of the cultural baggage I had from growing up in Asian culture.
Sit down. Be humble.
Growing up in Taiwan, my culture values humility. We learn to deflect compliments and to publicly self-deprecate that we were not as good as people say we are. We are pressured to avoid making ourselves or people who are related to us “丟臉 (lose face).” I learned to avoid giving direct feedback to others because I knew that they would have to deflect it and the costs of them potentially “losing face” were too high. (Note: that being said, secretly judging seemed to be TOTALLY ACCEPTABLE.)
The other side of this is that I never learned how to accept feedback. If someone complimented me on my intelligence, I would tell them “No, I’m not intelligent”. If I received constructive criticism, instead of taking it as a chance to improve, I interpreted that as I was not only bad at something, I was making my whole family and our ancestors lose face. I could even imagine my ancestors rolling their eyes in heaven saying “Geez, Angie, why can’t you just make us proud?”
So when I quickly realized that I was going to receive and give feedback every week in Write of Passage, I was so nervous that I just wanted to dig a hole and hide inside for the rest of my life.
The Day My Confidence Crumbled
Each week on Wednesday, Dave Perell, the creator of Write of Passage, would announce our weekly writing assignment.
In the first session, he said, “ Your homework this week is to publish your first draft by next Monday.” I’ve published many articles on my websites before. No big deal.
“...and you are going to give feedback to at least three other students, and revise your articles based on the feedback you get by Wednesday,” he announced.
With that my confidence crumbled. My stomach was tumbling. My world was spinning.
Writing an article knowing that people would definitely comment on it was beyond what I thought I'd be doing in the course. I started to procrastinate. By Sunday morning, zero words were written. But I had committed to this course. I knew I needed to face my fears so I finally sat down and wrote. I published my draft a bit after the deadline, and secretly hoped that it would sink into the bottom of the other 300 students’ drafts.
“Ding!” “Ding!” Ding” An hour later, the email notifications of someone commenting on my Google docs started to flood my inbox.
And that turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to my writing journey.
Learning To Value Feedback
CRIBS Feedback Framework
Reflecting on my fear of receiving feedback, it was the unknowns that scared me. Coming from a culture where feedback is either non-existent or came in the form of authoritarian instruction, I simply couldn’t imagine a positive version of feedback, let alone how to respond to it.
But a simple framework in Write of Passage called “CRIBS” gave me a better model for thinking about feedback. CRIBS is an acronym that people can use to give and ask for praise and constructive feedback. On the negative side, we can ask or offer feedback on parts of a piece that are confusing (C), repeated (R ), or boring (B). On the positive side, we can ask or offer feedback on insightful parts (I) or surprising (S) that a writer can double down on. With this clear framework, we know exactly what to look for when providing feedback and what to expect when receiving feedback.
In our live session, we have a very clear demonstration of how to analyze writing and give detailed and high-level feedback
Through CRIBS, my writing has been improved dramatically with feedback from my peers in Write of Passage. It has probably been the most important process in my writing.
A Culture That Cares
The supportive environment built by the Write of Passage team was an important part of shifting my attitude toward feedback. We learned to give CRIBS feedback with encouraging language, which makes authors feel supported and encouraged. Having this encouragement at the start of a creative journey is important because as Julia Cameron says in The Artist Way, creators need to have a safe space to grow their creative seeds and build a sustainable creation rhythm till they are ready to share their artwork with the world. Any criticism toward any creation too early could kill the connection between the creator and its “artist child.”
Fortunately, most writers in the Write of Passage community are in the same starting phase, and we can embrace the culture set by the core team to be supportive of our peers. Not only do I not fear feedback anymore. I look forward to it.
Quicker Feedback Cycles In Conversation
Part of what made me so excited about receiving feedback was experiencing e “writing in conversation” during “Writing Crossfit” sessions. In Writing Crossfit, we came up with a new writing topic and developed a structure from scratch. In the 2 hour session, we discussed our ideas and received immediate feedback in breakout rooms. Our peers told us in real-time what ideas are intriguing, what resonated with them, what felt boring, and how to structure the article. Instead of revising only after writing the whole article, developing our ideas while in conversation with others has saved me time and enabled me to write with confidence.
Moving Past My Cultural Baggage
“I’m writing for my catharsis.” used to be my excuse to reject any attempt for feedback from my partner. But If that was the case, why didn’t I just write in my private journal? What I wanted was to use my own stories to help people with navigating difficult life situations. Receiving feedback was so important because my story wouldn’t be helpful if my readers couldn’t understand it.
A challenge I have as a native Chinese speaker is translating my thoughts into English. Feedback lets me know if I am translating the intentions, emotions, and experiences in my mental world into written words well. There were times I thought I wrote a masterpiece where I used precise words to capture my emotions. Unfortunately, these words combined did not make sense for English native speakers. And I wouldn’t even know this if I was never open to feedback!
When I first thought about receiving feedback, I told myself it was going to be a practice of abandoning my unnecessary ego. But the most important lesson I learned in Write of Passage is that receiving feedback has nothing to do with me being a good or bad person. It’s about if my ideas connect with the reader. Did I write well enough, so I can help my readers in the way I want to? Did I give enough examples so my readers know which actions to take after they read my article? I received constructive feedback not because I’m a bad person as my culture taught me. I received constructive feedback because I am on a mission of helping others.
Finding Your Tribe
Now that you understand the importance of feedback from writing in public, what should you do next? Join Write of Passage, of course!
I’m only half-joking but Write of Passage taught me that the community that gives feedback is as important as the feedback itself. This course gave me a number of resources combined with a caring community that helped me move past many barriers that were holding me back. You may not want to join a course but at minimum, you should find a group of friends or creators that are committed to publishing and willing to give each other feedback (and don’t forget the CRIBS framework). You will be amazed by how much you can improve with the magic of feedback.