Writing Tips: How to Give Writing Feedback
Giving Writing Feedback
As an aspiring writer there is nothing more helpful, nor scary, as feedback on your writing. In fact, practice and effective feedback are invaluable tools at any level of the writing process, regardless of your current skill. How is it then that many would-be authors shrivel at the thought of having their writing critically reviewed by others?
The primary answer to this question is a simple one. There are not many authors around who love to hear criticism of their own work. It's hard. You put a great deal of effort into writing something enjoyable and it may prove difficult to place yourself into the readers shoes when you're so invested. Some authors make the mistake of assuming their readers know as much of the back-story as they do. Some have problems sticking to one style and bounce around willy-nilly through their writing, leaving the reader entirely confused.
Probably one of the worst things to do as a writer receiving feedback is to argue. Simply take note of what the reviewer has to say, store it away for a few days until the emotion subsides, and take an honest look. But this article isn't so much about receiving feedback as it is giving it, so let's cut to the chase.
Giving effective feedback can be much more difficult than you would assume. It isn't merely showing up and giving your first impression and brutally honest opinion. If you love to read and truly wish to help an aspiring, or established, writer improve - you must provide what is often called "constructive criticism". During my Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing, and Journalism classes we were taught the principle of the "critique sandwich".
In essence, a critique sandwich is a method of providing a going point, a critical observation, and following up with another positive reinforcement. This critique style can be somewhat limiting, though, depending largely on the perceived quality of the writing. Honestly, providing feedback to an aspiring or established author shouldn't have to be quite so formatted. A simple rule of thumb is to treat your feedback with the care and sincerity that you would like to receive when you put your work out for the world to review. There is a difference between putting something bluntly and delivering feedback with sincerity and tact. Remember, you are providing feedback because the author trusts you to provide feedback that is honest and caring. That doesn't mean that you have to lie to them and never offer any sort of suggestions or criticisms.
The Golden Rule of Writing Feedback
Too often, and I myself haven fallen prey to this, I see instances where the a writer gives what's been referred to as toxic feedback. This happens for many reasons, but the result is always pretty much the same. Toxic feedback can leave scars long after it has been given. The ego of a writer is such a fickle thing, constantly changing -- inflating and deflating. Toxic feedback is something that can eat away at that fabric so the ego balloon can never again inflate properly. Of course, we'd love to have nothing but the humblest of writers, but the truth is that many writers would never write if they didn't feel as if they had something worthy to say. In this respect, somewhat of an inflated ego is a must if we are to see anything in print from that writer. When we publish something, we are telling the world that our story is worthy of being read, that we have something to say that's worth listening to.
Therefore, it is paramount that we take great care with the words we use to give feedback. The writing spirit must be gently coaxed. It takes a lot of courage to be a mentor for another writer, it takes nothing more than our own inflated ego to give toxic feedback that can injure the writing spirit of those who put their trust in us.
In the end, it comes down to this: Give feedback that you would enjoy getting. Don't gloss over problems to save someone's feelings. Instead, use care and thought to phrase your feedback in a way that doesn't seem confrontational or belittling. You wouldn't want someone to out-right lie about the quality of your work only to find out it wasn't up to snuff before you sent it to agents or publishers.
When giving writing feedback, consider taking the approach of explaining to the author how you came to the conclusions you did. Sometimes the best way to start that conversation is with a question.
"Can you tell me more about this scene and why you wrote it that way?" "Oh, that's interesting! When I read it at first, this is what went through my mind..."
Good luck to you all, and may all of your feedback change the world of writing for the better! Once you realize the power of giving high quality feedback to writers, you will see just how much of an influence you can be in shaping future published work.