Writing feedback can be both invaluable and crushing. It’s crucial to get feedback on your writing, but it’s equally important to make sure you approach the right reviewer, in the right way, at the right time, with the right questions.
In The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback Becky Levine shares tips for developing your “editor’s eye” and analyzing writing like a professional. You’ll learn how to give organized and well thought-out critiques, and give and receive constructive writing feedback. If you’re part of a writing group that offers feedback, you’ll learn how to run efficient critique meetings and maintain a good group dynamic (so important!), and apply the feedback you receive to your own writing and revising process.
Are you part of a writing group, or a critical feedback group for writers? I think all writers should at least try a group at least once. I offer a few tips for starting writing groups and offering writing feedback in my article about How to Start a Writers’ Group, but the book is better.
The reason it’s important to ask for writing feedback is because “A writer judging his own work is like deceived husband – he is frequently the last person to appreciate the true state of affairs.” – Robert Traver.
Writers need an objective, external perspective on our writing because we’re over-involved. Enmeshed. Co-dependent. We love our words, characters, chapters, paragraphs, even our titles. We can’t see them for who they really are because we created them.
Our writings are our children, fellow scribes – and we don’t want to hear the truth about our kids. But the best thing we can do as parents is to get feedback on how our kids are doing in this world.
When You Ask for Writing Feedback
Start with “May I?” When you solicit writing feedback, you are asking for a rather large favor. It takes time to read your book/chapter/article/sonnet/song/script, and it takes even longer to formulate a response that is kind yet helpful. Is this the right time to ask for writing feedback? I’m talking about in your reviewer’s life. If she’s coping with a divorce, move to another country, or a million-dollar lottery reward? Then don’t ask her for writing feedback. Ask her how you can help her.
Make sure your writing is edited and polished. Never, ever give your reviewer a piece of writing that has grammatical errors, typos, missing pages, missing paragraphs, missing words, or even missing commas. It’s annoying to read writing that is poorly edited, and your reviewer’s feedback on your writing will reflect the irritation she feels.
Find the most qualified reviewer. Before you approach someone, ask yourself if the person you’re soliciting feedback from (from whom you are soliciting feedback, excuse me) a writer, an expert outstanding in his field or backyard, or your mom who loves everything you write? If, for instance, you’re asking for writing feedback on characterization in your children’s picture book, then you shouldn’t approach a nonfiction blogger like me. If you’re hoping to make money blogging, don’t ask Anne Lamott for her writing advice or read her book on birds. Make sure your reviewer knows something about your topic.
Ask for specific feedback on specific parts of your writing. It’s probably a mistake to hand your reviewer your 1,000 page novel and ask for general writing feedback. Where does she start and how will she find the time? Unless she’s a bored prison inmate, she probably has a life to tend to. Give her a chapter, and ask for writing feedback on something specific such as your characters or use of suspension and foreshadowing as literary techniques.
If you aren’t sure what to ask your reviewer to focus on, read 17 Reasons Manuscripts are Rejected – How to Get Published. You’ll find ways to improve your writing by paying attention to things such as book pacing, stock characterization, and flowery writing.
Encourage honesty by pointing out a flaw or two. Show your reviewer that you are open to all types of critical writing feedback by sharing your struggles and weaknesses with specific aspects of your book or article. And be serious about NOT getting offended or feeling personally attacked if your review offers critical writing feedback. Man up, or be a brave princess warrior writer. Whatever works for you.
How to Give Writing Feedback
When you’re giving writing feedback, do not offer more than was asked. I was recently asked to give feedback on a YouTube video. I’ve never made anything out of YouTube or distributed videos. I can’t give the type of feedback this person needs – but I am so tempted to offer other kinds of feedback! That is the wrong way to give feedback, writing or otherwise. Stick to the menu, do not veer away, or you risk offending your fellow writer, wasting time, and setting yourself up for future problems.
One tip on giving writing feedback is all I have time for, fellow scribes. I want to write more but I have to walk my dogs before lunch. The forest is calling, and my dogs’ bladders are bursting!
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I welcome your thoughts on how to ask for writing feedback below. Woof.