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Penguinball

Giving and Receiving Feedback on Your Writing

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Feedback is an essential part of the writing process, both learning to give feedback and learning how to accept and incorporate it. I thought it would be help to share our views on feedback, what works, what doesn't? Specifically:

1) What tips do you have for given the best feedback on a piece of writing? and

2) Receiving feedback can be difficult, it can make you feel like your writing sucks. But as much as it hurts, feedback is the best way to improve your writing. What tips do you have for receiving feedback and incorporating it into your draft?

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On 1/30/2019 at 7:54 PM, Penguinball said:

1) What tips do you have for given the best feedback on a piece of writing? and

2) Receiving feedback can be difficult, it can make you feel like your writing sucks. But as much as it hurts, feedback is the best way to improve your writing. What tips do you have for receiving feedback and incorporating it into your draft?

What an awesome question, and I can't wait to hear what people answer, since this subject is really personal.  

 

1: 

I try to find out where in the writing journey they are, and how confident they are in their writing, before giving feedback. A beginner who is self-conscious about their writing may need more positive feedback. I wanna inspire them to write more, not less. Even when they are more experienced and ask for the cold hard truth, I still mix in a lot of positive feedback. The funny thing about critique is that a lot of people think it means being critical (as in only pointing out flaws), but it doesn't. Being specific about what makes a particular scene or a character work can be great, because knowing what they're doing right is as important to know as the stuff that can be improved. 

Being clear on what your strenghts are as a critiquer beforehand can be really important, so you're kinda on the same level. Wanting general feedback on story and character, and then getting a lot nit-picking about spelling and grammar (because that's what they're good at) is not fun. 

Being careful and tactful is never a bad idea, so the tone used in the feedback can be crucial. We're writers, so we are sensitive to tone, and naturally assume that the other person is as well, which makes feedback (and writing forums!) a bit of a mine-field. 😄 Agreeing to give feedback on writing when you don't really have time is one thing that can affect comments in a big bad way, and affect the whole experience. The same can be true for agreeing to read a style or genre you don't really enjoy, especially for general feed-back on story. Being passionate about the genre and have a bit of reference can make all the difference.

 

2.

I try to sort out what is constructive feedback and what comments are based on personal taste. Clear comments are often not a problem, but comments can sometimes be super-vague. They are more tricky to work with, but equally valid, because it means that something in that scene is not really working as well as it could. When "vague" happens I try not to bother the feedback-person about it, because often they don't know exactly what is wrong, they just feel it. They are already doing me a big favour reading my stuff, so pestering them is a bad way of saying "thanks" (unless they explicitly says they wanna help in detail, but most people don't have that time). For me, it's not their job to help me fix it, just to point out that something is/feels wonky. 

Picking the right feedback person is important as to how valid I find their comments. If I feel they don't have the passion, or the energy and time to give genuine feedback, their comments don't have as much impact. Hopefully I see that long before I accept their feedback-offer. But if I find the right person, I do consider most every comment they make. I mostly incorporate what helps with making the text easier to read, clearer to understand and more enjoyable. Character comments like "she's too harsh" or "he's too good" is also something I like to examine a bit, because I can fail in letting characters come across the way I want them to. Same if they say they need more description because I'm too sparse when it comes to that. So knowing about my own strenghts and weaknesses makes it easier to make use of feedback comments.  

But I also remember that this is my book, and I decide what I want it to be in the end and I alone have to stand for those choices. It's the same when I give feedback: this is not my book, as in I have to give up the thought of what I would do with this kind of story and characters - which can be a hard thing for writers to do. 

 

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1.  The sandwich thingy always seemed like a good approach.  Start by saying what you think the author is doing right, then move on to some constructive criticism (don't nitpick at things, unless everything else in the draft is strong and nitpicking is what is called for) and then finish off with some enthusiastic and complimentary things about what you liked best about it. I confess I find doing this difficult.  I'm surprisingly bad at figuring out what I like about something, and much better at spotting what I don't like. :(

2. One of the first things I learned about feedback is that the readers directly contradict each other.  One person's awful scene is another person's favorite scene.  You can't possibly please everyone.  So every bit of feedback is just a datapoint.  On the other hand, every data-point is valuable, and you can learn from it -- even if all you are learning is about is your reader's quirks.   

My rule is to never revise anything unless I understand what and where the problem is and have a plan for fixing it.  

So what I'm trying to get from people's feedback is enough insight to be able to see the problem for myself.  Sometimes just pointing it out to me is all it takes.  Sometimes it's obvious that there is a problem, but what the reader(s) said isn't enough for me to be able to really see and understand it, so I have to ask questions or run that bit by someone else, or whatever.  And sometimes I just don't see a problem, and in those cases, whether a problem really does exist or not, it's going to have to remain as it is; I can't fix a problem I can't see.

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On 1/30/2019 at 6:54 PM, Penguinball said:

1) What tips do you have for given the best feedback on a piece of writing?

Be honest, but be careful how you say it. Honesty is what will make the writer improve the most, but a lot of people can't take direct feedback and may need it essentially sugarcoated. The sandwich technique is a good way of doing it. I always point out things they have done right or things I have enjoyed, or even things which just work well. Sometimes this can be challenging, but it's important to find something to say. 

It also might be a good idea asking what things they want looking out for. If they say nothing I tend to do an overall piece of feedback. Also pay attention if it is unedited or been worked on.

On 1/30/2019 at 6:54 PM, Penguinball said:

2) Receiving feedback can be difficult, it can make you feel like your writing sucks. But as much as it hurts, feedback is the best way to improve your writing. What tips do you have for receiving feedback and incorporating it into your draft?

After you have read the feedback, let yourself sulk. Let your inner writer rage and stomp and sulk. Take some time away, then come back and read it as an editor, not a writer. Things won't be so painful after that. It's ok to feel hurt by feedback. After all you've spent all that work on it only for someone to tear it apart. Of course they don't mean it maliciously (or the majority don't) but yes it can hurt the ego. It happens to me, it happens to other writers. Just don't dwell on it, let it pass, then come back at it ready to tackle it and make it better.

Ideally you should try and get direct feedback, no sugarcoating, tell it as it is. You'll learn faster that way, but it takes a while to get to that point. I am there, but it has taken a while (and that's including having it done with my art too)

As for incorporating it, go through the feedback one comment at a time, see if it applies not everything will, and keep the comments which are useful and discard the rest.

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