Handling feedback on your writing
Getting feedback on your writing can help you make it shine.
Writers may seek feedback from many places including creative writing courses, mentors, family and friends. A writing group can be a great place to get support. Words can be shared with other people who love writing and are happy to give or exchange feedback. Great writing friends will encourage you through the highs and lows of writing life too.
Before you ask for feedback from your writing group, check in with your writing. I worked for 30 years as a newspaper reporter and, when I turned in a piece, a common question the editor would ask was, ‘Are you satisfied with it?’ If I could not say ‘yes,’ I knew I had best start rewriting—and fast!
So, make sure your work is the best you can make it before you ask for reactions.
Just thinking about sharing a piece with your writing group can help you assess it. If you cringe at the thought of sharing it with them, consider whether it’s a confidence issue or a sign that the piece isn’t strong enough. If you’re not sure, share it and see what happens.
Listen with an open mind
Try to be specific about the feedback you’re looking for from your writing group to ensure the responses are as helpful as possible. For example, you may have concerns about the plausibility of the plot, how realistic the dialogue is or whether a setting is immersive.
Listen fully to the feedback. Take notes. If you don’t understand, ask people to explain. Do not take offense. There’s no need to respond unless you’re asked a question. If you turn defensive and argumentative, you will lose valuable feedback time. You are not there to listen to yourself.
A smart writer listens to frank, honest criticism with an open mind. If your group is only negative or peppered with bullies, find a new group. If it is all positive all the time, you’ll need a new group if you want to grow.
Online feedback can be just as valuable as in-person. Hang around. Get acquainted.
The perils of feedback
Sometimes, feedback on your writing can be conflicting, making it confusing to know who to listen to and what to do with your writing next. Recently, I took a synopsis of a novel in progress to my writing group and asked everyone what they thought.
‘Too much detail,’ Isabel said. ‘I want to know about the ideas.’
Susie shook her head. She felt the details were important.
I received more conflicting feedback, with the best intentions, from the rest of the group.
When faced with this sort of conflict, however, don’t try to solve it in the room. The reality is, there is no right or wrong answer. You will, in the end, be the final judge.
Sifting through writing feedback
Try to leave a break between receiving feedback and reviewing it to let any emotions subside, allowing you the headspace to consider it openly.
Here are a few questions to consider when reading through your notes:
- Do you respect the source?
- Does more than one person offer a similar criticism?
- What feels right? What rings true?
- When individuals disagree, seek an outside opinion, go with the majority if that feels right, or after sleeping on the critiques, see which one survives morning light.
Rather than seeking yet more opinion, listen to your gut.
If something makes sense, rewrite. If not, don’t.
Critiquing your own work
Some writers don’t have access to a supportive group. If this is the case, and you don’t want to pay for professional feedback, you will need to review your work yourself.
To do this, rest your piece for a few weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes.
Put your ears to work, too. Writers benefit from great listening skills as much as musicians. Print your work and read it aloud. Listen until you hear the tiny bells that have been dinging in the back of your mind.
I’m always amazed at how many messages they bring: Oh, that paragraph is a digression. Oh, that is not the precise word. Oh, that phrase is spot on. Good for me.
Whether from a group or yourself, treasure sincere praise. It will feed you.View 2 Comments
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