Asking for feedback on your writing is hard for most writers. Getting feedback on your memoir — the most personal form of writing — can be downright painful! How do you ask for and receive feedback on your personal life story? These tips will help you accept both criticism and praise with equal amounts of grace.
This article is inspired by two things: 1) Iyanla Vanzant’s tips on how to ask for what you want in an old issue of Oprah magazine; and 2) a blog post I wrote a few years ago, called How to Ask for Feedback on Your Writing.
At the end of that post I offer tips for giving positive and negative feedback to a writer. If you’re in a writer’s group that critiques each other’s work, learn how to give feedback to other writers. You can be honest if you’re kind — and it’s especially important to offer honest feedback kindly when you’re critiquing a memoir or autobiography.
It’s equally important to be graceful and kind when you’re getting feedback on your memoir. Learn how to avoid taking neither compliments nor criticism personally, even if you feel attacked. Remember that your memoir or autobiography isn’t you! Your written memoir is simply a representation of who you were, who you are, and who you are becoming. Your life story is still being written…and the feedback you receive is part of who you are. Treasure it, whether you like it or not — and whether you agree with it or not — because it is a gift.
And sometimes the most precious and important gifts are the ones that hurt the most. Somebody sacrifices something in any gift that is given and received (I’m thinking of you, Jesus! Humbly, gratefully, joyfully).
If you haven’t written your autobiography or memoir yet, read How to Start Writing Your Life Story. Note that a memoir is simply a piece of your life or a section of your autobiography.
5 Tips for Getting Feedback on Your Memoir
You may have heard the old cliche, “them that don’t ask, don’t get.” Or maybe you’re familiar with Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it shall be given unto you.”
Asking for specific feedback on your memoir can be healthy and good — and it might even improve your writing in powerful ways! But knowing who you are as a child of God is the surest, deepest and truest foundation of peace, joy and freedom. When you’re spiritually and emotionally grounded, you can receive any type of feedback on your writing. You’ll sift the good from the bad, like wheat from chaff.
“In my deepest, darkest moments, what really got me through was a prayer,” says Iyanla Vanzant, author of Get Over It! Thought Therapy for Healing the Hard Stuff. “Sometimes my prayer was ‘Help me.’ Sometimes a prayer was ‘Thank you.’ What I’ve discovered is that intimate connection and communication with my creator will always get me through because I know my support, my help, is just a prayer away.”
1. Get clear on the type of feedback you need
Before you ask for feedback on your memoir, ask yourself a few questions. Do you need help finding your voice as a writer? Maybe your writing is stiff, stilted, stoic. Or maybe you need help with grammar, editing, or sentence structure — which might mean asking for help writing better sentences and paragraphs. Perhaps you’re struggling with how much to reveal about your past, or confusion because you don’t know how to tell your life story without revealing the secrets of others. Maybe you need help writing your memoir without hurting family members.
Be clear about the type of feedback you want. Don’t ask your reviewer or editor to do it all! Instead, focus on one or two major aspects of your memoir (e.g., voice, grammar, content, style) and ask specific questions. Try to understand what you’re really asking for. Know what you need as a writer, a memoirist. Try to discern why you need it and what’s going on inside of you. This is part of writing an authentic memoir, asking for feedback and receiving it gracefully.
2. Accept that your question will cost you something
“Every request comes with a cost—there is no free lunch,” says Iyanla Vanzant, author of Trust: Mastering the Four Essential Trusts: Trust in Self, Trust in God, Trust in Others, Trust in Life. “For instance, asking for a raise may mean a tense conversation with your boss—and if you’re successful, nine times out of then the raise will come with additional responsibilities. That’s the cost: You have to be willing to do what’s required. We cannot enjoy the benefit if we can’t accept the price.”
Asking for feedback on your memoir will cost your pride — I hope! If it doesn’t, either your reviewer isn’t honestly giving you the critique you need or you’re refusing to hear what’s being said about your memoir, your writing, your voice or style. If you want to succeed as a writer, you have to lay down your ego, set aside your pride, and humbly ask for honest feedback. The cost is that you’ll feel scared or embarrassed, maybe even humiliated. And that’s normal. It’s hard to hear criticism of your work…especially if your work involves your life story. Accept that this is where you are right now, and that you’re growing as a memoirist.
3. Don’t let fear stop you from getting feedback on your memoir
No matter how you feel about getting feedback on your memoir, don’t let fear hold you back. Be brave and bold; your courage has the power to change your writing! Learn the difference between helpful and unhelpful feedback. Allow yourself to feel scared, anxious and hurt. Recognize praise for what it is: one person’s opinion. Neither praise nor criticism is the full truth about your writing — nor is it the whole story of your life. If you fear feedback, learn how to write through fear and trembling.
“Fear is an obstacle that blocks your capacity to receive,” says Iyanla, author of Peace From Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through. “I’m not just talking about the fear of making your voice heard. I’m also talking about the fear of getting what you want and realizing it’s not all you’d hoped it would be, the fear of the responsibility that will come with it, the fear of losing it, and the fear of what will happen if you don’t get it. These are all common fears, and they can get in the way of asking for the things you yearn for.”
4. Ask for what you need with trust and curiosity
Joining or starting a writer’s group is one of the best ways to learn how to get feedback on your memoir without melting into a pile of dejection. A healthy group of writers will be lovingly honest and ruthlessly real — even if they know you’re sensitive to criticism about your writing. A memoir is the most personal form of writing, but it is not your heart, soul, spirit, mind or body. You may have written your life story with your heart in your mouth, your soul in your fingertips, and your spirit in every word…but your memoir can never be tainted or ruined by anyone but you. If your self-identity is healthy and grounded in who you are as child of God, nobody has the power to destroy you. Unless, of course, you give them that power.
“When you do not believe you deserve whatever you’re asking for—if you don’t believe you’re worthy—you are not open to receiving it and, more often than not, you will not get it,” says Iyanla. “That’s how the universe works: If you don’t put your trust in it, it won’t deliver.”
5. Keep asking for feedback on your memoir
“When you want something, you may be required to ask more than once—and you can’t get too attached to the manner through which you receive it,” says Iyanla, who also wrote Living Through the Meantime: Learning to Break the Patterns of the Past and Begin the Healing Process. “If you want love, ask for it—but know that it might take awhile and may not come from the partner you expect. If you want a fulfilling career, understand that you may get it, but perhaps not in the field, position, or time frame you anticipate. Asking for and receiving what you want means keeping the faith that you will get it, even if the outcome doesn’t look the way you thought it would.”
That’s my favorite tip on how to ask for feedback on your memoir: Be open, courageous and clear about what you want and need…and be open to anything. You might even receive a gentle or hurtful “no, I don’t offer feedback on memoirs.” On the other hand, you might get pages of written response — along with an invitation to re-submit your memoir after you’ve rewritten it (I’m thinking of a publishing house, editor or literary agent). Expect anything. Be open and willing to accept how you’re growing as a writer. Trust that God really does love you and want the best for you (if you don’t know what that means, ask me in the comments section below).
Know that there are blessings in every “no” and challenges in every “yes” you hear.
Your big and little comments are welcome below! Feel free to describe your memoir, or write down the specific questions you want feedback on. I myself don’t give feedback on memoirs (or any type of writing), but you might find it helpful to share what you’re thinking and writing about.
In peace and passion,
P.S. Do you feel insecure or anxious about your memoir, or yourself as a writer? Read How to Stop Hating What You Write.