Critiques: How to Give Feedback as a Writer

Originally published at: http://wackywriters.com/critiques-how-to-give-feedback-as-a-writer/

Giving Writing CriticismFeedback is crucial on a writer’s journey. It is the means we need to become better at our craft and to grow as storytellers. Both giving and receiving feedback is a vital part of learning how to write. However, both of these aspects are something people commonly struggle with. For this post, we will be focusing on giving feedback. How do you give it in a useful, helpful way?

Stay Constructive

While giving feedback can be immensely useful and help a writer grow, it can also tear them down and make them want to quit altogether. As someone giving feedback, it’s your responsibility to word your tips and advice in a helpful, constructive manner. While you do not have to ‘sugarcoat’ things and hide the story’s flaws, there is no need to be ‘brutal’ and to destroy a writer’s work. Find the middle ground that allows you to say what you have to say in terms of advice while encouraging the writer at the same time.

One of the most important things is to never tell a writer that their writing is terrible, that they should stop writing altogether, or make them feel that way. This behavior is not helpful and borderline attacking another writer. The only way to improve your writing is to keep writing, and to tell someone to stop writing is one of the most counterproductive things you could possibly do. It’s like cutting a fledgling bird’s wings off before they have barely flapped them. Instead, show them how to fly, and they will soar.

Stay Positive

One method for giving feedback is commonly called the ‘positivity hamburger’ or ‘positive sandwich’. As the name suggests, this is when negative feedback is ‘sandwiched’ between two pieces of positive feedback. As humans, we are more affected by negative feedback than we are by positive feedback. The positivity sandwich can help the writer feel encouraged by what you enjoyed about the work, accept your constructive feedback without feeling attacked, and feel motivated to start improving on your suggestions after reading the positive note at the end.

As mentioned above, you don’t need to lie or tell them everything is perfect. But it’s important to always mention at least one good thing, even if it’s as vague as “your premise is really interesting”. Everyone knows the sting of a particularly harsh critique, especially if it’s on a work you love and are proud of. Encourage them to continue, to grow. Helping a writer on their journey is what really matters.

Stay Objective

While it’s completely normal to have some form of personal bias in your feedback, it’s important to ensure your feedback is mostly based on facts and true writing ‘rules’, rather than bias based on what you prefer. For example, perhaps the story includes a romance between the two main characters. If you dislike romance stories and then write a critique saying that the story is bad because you dislike romance, that’s not very helpful and will result in an upset writer. But if you were to say the story could use some improvement on the romance because you found it unengaging, that would be far more constructive.

Understand your biases and try to figure out the balance of where personal bias helps you recognize legitimate issues and where to ignore it altogether. This way, your feedback will be as useful and objective as possible.

You can also avoid giving feedback on content you don’t enjoy or content you don’t feel qualified to give feedback on. Since you are the one giving feedback, you are in control of who you offer your service/help to, which means you can set your own boundaries. You might not feel comfortable giving feedback on explicit content, or perhaps someone asks for help ensuring their historical fiction is historically accurate. It’s perfectly acceptable to turn down requests on work you don’t feel qualified or comfortable critiquing. Remember to always set your boundaries, for both your sake and the writer you’re giving feedback to.

Stay Organized

Decide on a list of things that you feel qualified to give feedback on. Common aspects include grammar/spelling, characters, plot, realism, dialogue, etc. By having this list and using it regularly, you will know what you can give feedback on and can look for that specifically while reading. This will allow you to look at a manuscript more critically, which will allow you to have a clearer vision of your own writing, too.

If you’re thinking of opening up a feedback shop (on the Wacky Writers forum?), either for free or for payment, keep in mind that it’s your shop. You get to set the boundaries, decide how many people can go in your queue, how much time you’re willing to spend on it, how large and detailed your feedback is in terms of word count, what genres/books you give feedback, and how much payment you’ll ask. It’s always a good idea to explain details such as how much you will critique, what you expect in return in regards to payment, and a timeline of when they can expect you to be done. This helps your client understand what they are agreeing to and avoid misunderstandings.

About payment, if you are asking people to read your writing online as payment (be it on writing sites or via Google Docs), be sure to put your best work forward. If you show that you are a good writer who knows what they’re doing, the people you’ll give feedback to will feel reassured that your help will be just what they need. They might just stick around to read the rest of your manuscript, too.

 

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The personal bias section is so important!

The worst feedback I have gotten is always along the lines of the critic not liking it because my writing style is different than theirs. Essentially telling me to change my entire writing style to be different, but are unable to tell me what I am doing wrong other than “everything”. Like, yeah that’s not helpful.

Or people who say they didn’t understand why my characters didn’t get together in the end and that they should kiss or something so we know they are in love. (yes someone actually told me this) Because I purposefully write stories where the two main characters don’t fall in love in the end. Why can’t people just be friends? :sob:

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I was on a forum once and people there could really tear down someones writing style. I got told a LOT that I should just ‘Keep it simple’ and okay you have to keep it simple, but when you edit everything in the way that they said I ended up with a text that was just too plain…

‘MC does this’
‘MC does that’
‘Victim dies’
‘MC walks away’

You have to also create a certain feel and get a flow going and that’s something they tried to take away from me.

Best advice has come from a few writers I met at Wattpad, @FireAlwaysReturns included :slight_smile: they tell me what I could change and how I can get more out of a scene but also tell me when they think I did something good. And that’s also important. Don’t just break down whats ‘wrong’ in you eyes, but also let the writer know what you thought was really good :slight_smile:

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Yeah exactly! I noticed this happens a lot when you get different genre writers in the same room. Romance writers tend to write more flowy descriptions, while an Action writer uses short and punchy descriptions. Both can be great for their respective genres, but when they try to give each other advice, you end up with short, unengaging romantic descriptions and action scenes that are bogged down. Just as an example.

But yeah Jane gives great advice!

I prefer that style of advice where they look at the bigger picture and tell you what you did well, because then you know what to improve on. When they point out a ton of stuff wrong with no positive feedback, it makes you feel like throwing the entire project away since it seems like there is nothing good about it! :man_shrugging:

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As an aromantic… this! This so much! I want to plaster it all over the walls. And the floors. And the ceilings. Every conceivable surface.

Darn, that’s indeed some sucky advice =/ I’m glad we all got to help you see past it <3

Awww :two_hearts: I try my best to help

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Reminded me of a short (and rather funny I must say) story that you guys might like to read. It’s more about a writers workshop but it highlights how not to give feedback in it. It’s a little on the mature side (nothing happens but certain phrasings and conversations might not be suitable for the young) if that’s not for you

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Ooo, I never thought about this, but it’s so true. :hushed:

As for me, I can only really think of one example in particular, where I got feedback to use simpler descriptive words, meanwhile, the word variation was something many of my readers praised, or make my chapters shorter when there was no natural break to do so, at least in my opinion.

When I gave feedback it was usually done in the “compliment sandwich” style - say something good then what could be improved upon and finish with something good again. :blush:

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Awesome blog post, as always! I think the personal bias section is so important when giving critiques. When people say ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this’, it wounds my ego, but when they say ‘this works…this doesn’t work’ then I think of writing. I also find critiquing other writers work helps a lot in your own writing, it was a big growth stage in my writing when I was going through my critique/beta-read phase.

Take notes! I forget everything I read, and then when I later go to give the critique that serves a problem.

i don’t really remember :joy:

‘good chapter.’ :expressionless:

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Yes exactly!
I’m a romance writer and my story is about an Assassin so there’s killing and fighting scenes in it, which I admit is not my fortae… but thanks to a few fellow writers who are really good at those type of things I’m (still) learning to be better at them. Short sentances, straight to the point and make sure you know the anatomy of men :sweat_smile: hahaha.

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I still do that :smile: haha

Yeah…well it’s better than them saying it sucked, but you can’t exactly work with that :sweat_smile:

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Feedback can be subjective and opinionated. It’s how it is. I do give good and bad points but the way I critique or type in general is very…blunt. It has and probably will continue to upset some people. I do my best to accomodate but it’s disheartening when you are the one recieving the back end of the stick after giving so many pre-warnings.

But sometimes you get people who don’t even read your damn book properly (i.e read the preface and skip the prologue to move onto ch 1) and then complain they are confused. I get that my book has a lot going on but come on, if you don’t even read a big part of what’s going on how’re you gonna give yourself a chance to understand? Also, follower wars. Screw follower wars.

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For me, as a writer of romance and drama. I am still trying to grow my reads, get as many chapters out as possibly.

I don’t get a lot of feedback on my stories, wither that is a good or a bad thing, I don’t know.

I don’t know how to gain more readers eithers other than write 24/7. My only issue is by doing that and when I get lost and need help… Nobody wants to help me!

If you know this, have you ever tried to change this, or do you warn people of your style and leave it at that?

What are follower wars? O.o

If you are looking for feedback on your story, feel free to take a look at the critique shops in #story-help-center:find-a-critic. Or you could open up your own, giving feedback in return for feedback on your own work in #story-help-center:read-for-reads. That is the most effective way of ensuring feedback on your story. Hope that helps :slight_smile:

Yes I have tried to change. Many times, actually. But it made me miserable and not want to critique. I’m human and despite what changes I make to suit other people, how can I enjoy commenting on a book when I’m not myself when I do it? The critiquer gets hurt just as much as the person recieving the critique, especially if it ends badly. We want to provide a service and we can’t do that if we’re going to be threatened or told otherwise. Sometimes, people need to look at the other side of the story before judging, not saying that any of you here do. :grinning:

Follower wars are when a popular author uses their follower account to attack other smaller creators for either a misunderstanding or even a critique or comment they disagree with. Even a constructive comment can cause a riot on a beloved book and well, tank that person’s profile. It’s horrible but rarely done anymore. I’ve been on the site a decade so…I guess you could say I’ve seen a lot. :sweat_smile:

That’s completely understandable and fair. Especially since it’s often volunteering/for free. I imagine you’d put up with a lot more if it were paid, but as it stands, you’re just a writer trying to help other writers. It’s unreasonable to torture yourself over that

Ah, this… Yeah, I’ve seen and experienced this. It’s truly nasty

I’ve tried before

Nobody wants to help a autisc, disabled author

Those who try get annoyed because they don’t know how to coup with autism

As an autistic, disabled author myself, I know you sometimes have to make your own luck. Try opening your own read 4 read shop. Because you offer something in return, people are far more likely to help you. People often want something for their help online, which is why it’s the most effective to give them something for their time.

And if you can’t find any people, you can always find resources. There are countless videos, blogs, and books on becoming a better writer. Read your favourite books and try to figure out what makes you like them so much. And most importantly: keep writing. You get better with experience.

I never know what to say/do when it comes around to things like that.

I can’t watch videos and read like most people because I don’t understand a lot of what’s in it.

I’ve posted at least 3 threads on here in the past asking for help and advice…

Nobody wants to help me, nobody wants to help me becoming a better writer.

I’m sorry that the things you’ve tried aren’t working for you. Hopefully, you’ll find something that helps soon.