The Goldilocks Solution to Too Much or Too Little Feedback

Image of a woman  with her head face down on one arm resting on a desk. the other arm's elbow rests on the desk and the hand holds a sign that reads HELP! A thought bubble on one side i s white and reads "no feedback" the thought bubble on the other side is packed with a mass of small items that create a confusion of lines and colors and it's labeled FEEDBACK.

No matter what experience and knowledge you have, if you want others to appreciate your creative project, you need feedback. But too much or too little can derail your project and, in extreme cases, your creative life. While I am most familiar with feedback on a novel-in-progress, most of the content of this post can apply to any creative project. You can learn to manage feedback so that, like Goldilocks, you find the “just right” solution to your feedback needs. 

How Much is Too Much or Too Little?

There’s no easy one-size-fits all answer. It depends on you, your tolerance, your experience, your project’s complexity, and often what else is going on in your life. When your non-creative life is full of stress, your tolerance for too much or too little will change. Self-awareness is key. Do a personal inventory or analysis. How are your relationships? Your physical and emotional health? Other stressors could be financial or mental health or simply dehydration. Relieve as much stress in your life as is possible. If this is a high stress time in your life, be kind to yourself. Assess your needs and allow yourself to fill them to the best of your ability. Limit the feedback you receive or to ask for more. 

The following are symptoms you may experience if you are suffering from too much or too little feedback. 

Physical Symptoms

Headaches, muscle tension or pain, indigestion or other stomach problems, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and dizziness can all be symptoms of overwhelm. If you only experience your physical symptoms (whatever they may be) when you attempt to work on your creative project, consider that you may suffer from too much or too little feedback.


It’s extremely easy to be confused by too much feedback. Whenever you receive more than one opinion, you can run into opposites. One person loves what you’ve written and the other hates it. Too many options for “fixing” the problem in your manuscript can lead to confusion.

Sometimes not getting feedback also leaves you confused. Writing is a solitary sport. That can leave you confused. Or maybe you asked for feedback and got no response or they give a non-committal response. 

Avoidance or Lack of Focus

Both too much and too little feedback can lead to avoiding your creative work or an inability to maintain your focus. Creativity takes a lot of thinking space, a lot of energy, and a lot of time. Space, energy and time you don’t get if you are avoiding or cannot focus.


Indecision is a state of being frozen between two or more courses of action or reaction. Any or all of the above can lead to the inability to make creative decisions about your work. It is impossible to be creative when you are stuck like this.

Mental and Emotional

Be aware of your normal mental and emotional states and how those change when you experience stress related to too much or too little feedback.

Human psychology is complex and individual, and this post cannot make diagnoses or treatment recommendations. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or a life crisis, please seek the help of a professional or call 988.  

When You’re Overwhelmed 

The good news is that you can overcome being overwhelmed. You may find one or more of the following tips helpful.

Know Your Why. 

Why did you start this project? What did you hope to achieve? Some projects last for weeks, months, even years. You’re certain when you begin that you’ll never forget your why, but you will. Human memory isn’t perfect. If you don’t need that knowledge on a day-to-day basis, it will get buried somewhere in your memory or even forgotten. 

Label Your Feelings. 

Even the most well-meaning criticism can hurt. Emotional reflexes are deeply ingrained.. The more you try to repress them, the stronger, more resistant they become. So if you have a strong emotional response to the feedback you’ve received, allow yourself to feel them. Label your feelings. “I feel hurt.” “I am angry.” Or if you’re overwhelmed, “I’m so stressed.” 

Labeling your feelings creates a bit of distance between yourself and your experience. That distance, however slight, gives you space to choose how to respond and move on. You can decide a hurtful critique is hurtful because you held a misconception about your skill or because of the way it was baseless and expressed in a hurtful way. Then you can move on with decisions about whether to accept the criticism and learn from it or ignore it.

An additional benefit to labeling your feelings about feedback is that you’ll be more mindful of other times when people or events trigger your emotional reflexes. You’ll still have that initial emotional reaction, but you’ll have the tools to identify them and choose how to respond.

Manage Your Brain

Help your brain help you. Your brain needs enough liquids, nutrients, and enough rest to work well. When you don’t eat well, don’t drink enough water, or get enough sleep, it gets harder and harder to be creative or to make good decisions.

Your brain needs nutrients to create energy to think. Junk food doesn’t cut it. It simply doesn’t have enough or the kinds of nutrients your brain needs. The best nutrients come from so-called brain foods(green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, berries, tea and coffee, and walnuts. Breaking down those nutrients releases energy. The breakdown of those nutrients also releases byproducts or wastes. Those wastes build up and don’t get cleared away until you sleep. 

Did you know that the first symptom of dehydration is fatigue? It is. That means if you aren’t drinking enough water, your brain (and whole body) gets tired. And guess what is harder to do? Anything creative. Decision making. Being productive. 

Decision fatigue is a term used to describe the mental fatigue you experience after repeated decision-making without enough breaks. That fatigue affects your judgment, productivity, and creativity. This is why many advisors suggest you don’t get on social media before your creative work. Decisions about what to make for dinner, or whether to clean, or go out with friends add up. Routines and scheduling can help reduce the number of decisions you make. Help from children or significant others can also reduce the number of decisions you need to make in a day. The fewer daily-life decisions you have to make, the more energy your brain will have to devote to your creative project.

Filter the Feedback 

Consider the Source

Some people simply do not work well together. Personalities or styles clash. For example, if a reader doesn’t read in the genre of your story, that reader will not provide you with a lot of helpful input. If you don’t have a choice, as in a classroom situation, decide whose comments you’ll take into consideration. Feedback that is respectful, helpful, knowledgeable, and/or encouraging is worth considering.

Is It Aligned with Your Vision?

If the feedback you’ve received doesn’t align with the project you envision, ignore that feedback. Changes made on that feedback can complicate your project to the point you’re dissatisfied or completely unable to finish it.

Feedback that ignores what you are attempting to accomplish is neither helpful nor respectful.

Look for Merit

Not all feedback has merit. It doesn’t mean your feedback partner was trying to be unhelpful. Decision fatigue, personal experience and biases all affect the person giving you feedback. So look for beyond whether the feedback is positive or negative. Is it helpful? Does it add something to your work? 


You may wish to focus on one particular area at a time. You can ask your critique partners to focus on one thing. For example, you can ask for reactions solely related to the characters. Perhaps have a list of questions for your reader. Do you like this character? Was what he did in this chapter logical for him? Was there any point when you thought what he did or decided was dumb or made you lose interest? Or whatever questions are pertinent to your creative project.

Look for Patterns

Sometimes you need to ignore what is wrong and look at where or the pattern of “wrongs.” A pattern might be in your use of sentence fragments or the way you held the yarn, twisted it and distorted the shape. Often, well-intentioned advice on how to change the sentence or situation is not in line with your project vision. Pay attention to possible underlying problems. Also, pay attention if more than one person mentions a problem in the same area. Your feedback partner may not identify it correctly, but detected the problem.

Take Time

Give yourself time to indulge in your first emotional response. As mentioned above, your emotional reflexes are deeply ingrained and don’t get better when you suppress them. So give yourself a limited amount of time to react and feel however you feel. How much time? You get to decide, but keep the time short enough that it doesn’t disrupt more than one day of creative work.

You also need time to digest the feedback. Sit with the feedback. Think about the pros and cons of it. Sometimes the time you need for this is very short, other times it may be much longer. It’s okay to set aside a piece of feedback and work on other parts of your project. Schedule a date to come back to that bit and look at it again so you don’t forget.

Making changes also takes time. The time for this also varies. If you need to learn a new skill or piece of information, that may take a lot of time. Give yourself the grace of enough time to implement the changes you want to make. 

Celebrate Your Successes

A valuable critique partner will point out the things you did well as well as problem areas. Celebrate those good bits. Keep those compliments in an album or a word file or even an inspiration board. Review those pats on the back often, particularly if you are feeling inadequate to create your project.

Ask Questions

If a feedback comment or suggestion isn’t clear, don’t assume you know what it means. Ask questions. Ask yourself questions about the feedback. Does it feel right? Does it improve, clarify, or strengthen something?

Is the feedback is about a specific skill or technique and you’re uncertain if it’s correct? Do some research. Find out whether it’s correct, then decide if you want to act on the information.

Set Boundaries

Let the person giving you feedback know when and how often you want to receive feedback. You can ask for specifics like the tone you prefer and the way it’s delivered (written or verbal). Advise the person giving feedback of your expectations. Be clear about whether they are to receive something from you (a copy of the book or a print of the art, feedback by you on their project, etc.) in exchange for their feedback. 

If their feedback is unclear, ask that the feedback be rephrased.

Politely decline any feedback that is inappropriate, unsolicited, or abusive. 

You can always choose NOT to follow that advice. 

Dealing with too Little Feedback 

Expand Your Circle

It’s okay to limit the amount of feedback you ask for and receive. Often it’s a good strategy to limit the number of people you ask, the focus of the feedback, etc. But if you’re isolated, expand your circle. Find local groups of like-minded creators. Where? Your local parks and recreation department may have classes or workshops. Other places to look include community colleges, libraries, Facebook groups, online classes, or 

A caution when choosing classes and critique partners. Check their experience, their tastes, their knowledge levels. Avoid people who claim to know the “right” way to write. There is no one way. Know enough of the basics of story structure and story elements to spot people who aren’t as knowledgeable as they claim.

Consider hiring a professional instructor, editor, or mentor. As with choosing classes and critique partners, check them out. But hiring a professional can be a way to get valuable feedback that will help you take your creative skills to the next level.

Evaluate the Silence 

Does the silence or scant feedback have significance? It could indicate problems or be good news. Unfortunately, you may not have enough information. Gather information if you can. Ask questions of your feedback partner. 

Ask Open-ended Questions

When you receive too little feedback, your partner may need some guidance. Ask them questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. Open-ended questions begin with why, how, or what. You can ask them to “explain” what they feel or understand after reviewing your work. “Did you like it” is not an open-ended question. “How did this make you feel” is open-ended.

The Goldilocks Solution

Image of three green mugs with sticky notes labeling the mug at the far left as "too hot", the center mug as "just right" and the far right mug "too cold."

Stay True to Your Vision

This is your project. Your voice and your dream brought it into being. Honor that. Trust your vision. Use feedback that helps you achieve that. Discard feedback that tries to change the heart of your project.

Be Specific

Decide what kind of feedback you need or want. The more specific you are, the more useful you may find the feedback. Let your partners know if you are open to more generalized feedback besides the specific.

Choose Feedback Partners Wisely

Well-intentioned people often want to help you reach your creative goals. If they do not know what it takes to implement those goals, their feedback may not be helpful. 

The wrong feedback partners can be harmful without intending to be. Some people are “rule-followers” who believe even creativity must follow rigid rules. Their feedback may direct you down a set of rules that are not appropriate for your project or don’t work for the way your creative brain works. People who only casually are familiar with what you’re working on can give wrong-direction advice. For example, if a writer needs feedback on a space adventure story, a person who reads space stories only if they are a romance probably would not be a good feedback partner. 

Look for like-minded, slightly more experienced creatives or people who are very familiar with your type of creative project. 

Schedule Feedback 

Schedule yourself limited time periods when you will receive feedback, when you’ll think about feedback, and for implementing changes based on the feedback. This will help you avoid overwhelm and stay focused on completing your project.

Make Separate Versions

If possible, create two or three separate versions of your project. Have one that is the original version, one that contains the all the feedback, and one that you incorporate the changes into. The separation of versions helps create distance and allows you the opportunity to compare and perhaps restore changes to the original.

Celebrate the Positives

Celebrating even the smallest positives gives you a boost of dopamine (the feel-good hormone.) That sets up a positive feedback loop that helps you keep working 

Decide on the Merit

Sometimes feedback lacks merit because of the source, but sometimes it lacks merit for other reasons. Your feedback partner may have been distracted, or ill, or simply had a bad day. You must not only vet your feedback partners, but get to know them well enough you can discern their usual style. 

Take every comment seriously. Ask yourself why that person said that. Try to see the underlying problem. Then decide if you need to make changes.

Ultimately, you are the final arbitrator of whether a piece of feedback merits changing your work.

Trust Your Instincts

Conflicting feedback is normal. Some people will love what you’ve done, some will hate it, and some will be anywhere in between. Sometimes your feedback partner can’t quite identify what’s wrong, but they’ll take a stab at it anyway. It’s hard to know what to do in these cases. When in doubt, trust your instincts. 

Your instinctive reaction to feedback is important. For example, if the feedback makes your heart race in excitement—your instincts are telling you it will help you achieve what you want to achieve. If, on the other hand, the feedback makes you think ‘what the heck?’ That reaction might tell you this idea is all wrong for your vision. 

While you need to trust your instincts, you also need to remember to give it time. Don’t follow your instincts blindly because it might be an emotional reflex. Notice your instinctive reactions always. With practice, you’ll be able to recognize your true creative instincts almost immediately. 

Look for Opportunities to Grow

When deciding which piece of feedback you will incorporate in your work, look for the ones that give you the opportunity to grow. Helpful feedback can give you the opportunity to learn a new skill, discover a new way to achieve an effect, or strengthen what you already do. Use those opportunities. 

Appreciate the Feedback.

Appreciate the opportunities the feedback gives you, but also appreciate the time and effort of the person who provided the feedback. Your gratitude helps you and your feedback partner.

It’s a Balancing Act

Finding the balance between too much and too little feedback is trickier than finding bowls of porridge that are too hot, too cold, and just right. As a result, there may be times when you find yourself with too much and times when you find you have too little feedback. Plan how to handle each of those and, like Goldilocks, create the “just right” solution for you.

Images from DepositPhotos


  1. Thanks for this, Lynette. I have a sign above my desk: Q-TIP (Quit taking it personal) to remind me to keep a distance between myself and feedback. SO HARD!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *