Giving and Receiving Feedback
A guide to critiques and reviews
Feedback 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. How do you give feedback in a useful, helpful way? And what do you do when you receive feedback that you feel is wrong or attacks you as a writer? These are all things that you’ll come across at least once, so learning to deal with them is important. I will do my best to give you the tools you need to do that in this guide.
The difference between a review and a critiqueOne of the most common mistakes I see is people mixing up reviews and critiques. The most important difference between the two is that a review is made by a consumer for other consumers (think product/movie reviews), while a critique is an analysis by someone with knowledge about the subject on how to improve said subject. In writer's terms, a review is what tells a reader whether or not they should read the book, while a critique tells the writer how to improve their story.
Giving constructive feedbackWhile giving feedback can be immensely useful and help a writer, 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 'sugar coat' 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.
The positive sandwichThe method I use to give my feedback is something I like to call the 'positive sandwich'. What this means is that I start off with what they do well, follow up with my constructive feedback, and then end off on a positive note. I'm fairly sure research has shown that this is an effective way to give feedback without making someone feel like giving up, but I don't have any links. That said, personal experience has shown this to be a good, effective method.
Including personal biasIt's completely normal to have some form of personal bias in your feedback. After all, most people here aren't professionals and don't have years of experience as a writer. Even then, you should take care that your feedback is mostly based on facts and true writing 'rules', rather than bias. For example, if you dislike werewolf and then write a critique of a werewolf book saying that the story is horrible because the genre sucks, that's not very helpful and will result in an upset writer. If you were to say the story could use some improvement on the grammar/lore/characterization, that'd be far more constructive. If you can, try to figure out the balance of where to use bias and where to ignore it or leave it out as much as possible. This way, your feedback will be as useful as it can be.
Things that you should not doIf you are giving feedback, there are a few things to avoid. One of them has been mentioned above: including too much personal bias. Another thing is to give feedback on content you don't enjoy at all. Since you are giving the feedback, you are in control of who you offer your service/help too, which means you can set your own boundaries.
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 like that. This behaviour is not helpful and borderline attacking a user. 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.
Other feedback tips and tricksIf you're thinking of opening up a feedback shop in the Find a Critic section of the forums, keep in mind that it's your shop. You get to set the boundaries, decide how many people can go in your cue, how much time you're willing to spend on it, how large your feedback is in terms of words, what genres/books you give feedback, and how much payment you'll ask.
About payment, if you are asking people to read your book 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 will feel reassured that your feedback will be helpful.
One big thing to keep in mind is that people can’t improve if they don’t write. Always mention at least one good thing, even if it’s as vague as “your premise is really interesting”. Encourage them to continue, to grow. Helping a writer on their journey is all that matters.
Another thing that helps greatly is to decide a list of things that you will give feedback on. Common aspects are: grammar/spelling, characters, plot, realism, dialogue, etc. By having this list and using it, you will know what you can give feedback about and can look for that specifically while reading.
Receiving (harsh) feedbackWhile giving feedback is difficult, receiving it can be even harder. Most writers are proud of their work, and hearing it's not as great as you thought it was can hurt and hurt badly. Sometimes, it feels like the person giving feedback uncovers so many mistakes that it's better to delete the story altogether. If you feel overwhelmed by the feedback you are getting, step away from it. Avoid it completely for a while and then go back to it with a clear mind. You can do this as many times as you need.
Something I do myself is staying away when I know someone is giving me feedback and leaving notes in my story, whether it be on a writing site or a program like Google Docs. By keeping my distance, I will be able to come back and look at all suggestions at once, rather than freak out at the number of suggestions I seem to be receiving over time.
As a last note, avoid lashing out at the feedback giver. Even if they seem mean (or they actually are mean), being mean back won’t help anyone. You can either ignore them or simply say “Okay, thanks” and fume in quiet or to your friends. Attacking them won’t help you, either, even if it might momentarily make you feel better.
Implementing feedbackAfter you have received the feedback and are able to look at it with a clear, calm mind, it's up to you what you do with the suggestions. Look over each one individually if they're in the form of small comments, or pick apart the large critique to see what is useful and what isn't. Remember, you have the full right to reject suggestions and do what you like! You don't have to use every single suggestion given. More often than not, five different people will have five wildly different opinions about the exact same scene, or even the same paragraph. That said, if several people give roughly the same feedback about the same thing, you might want to look into what's going on there and find a way to improve it.
I hope you found this guide useful. If you have anything you feel should be added here or that there are some things that need to be expanded upon, don't hesitate to post down below. If you have any questions, I will be here to answer them as well. Good luck on your writing journey!
✧ coded by astrophile ✧