Feedback is an imperative part of the writing process – assuming you are writing to be read by others. Finding and taking it, however, is not always so easy. Some are fortunate enough to have friends and family take an active interest in their work, but some have to put themselves a little more out there to be heard.
Here are some things I like to keep in mind when looking for and getting critique:
- Convey what kind of feedback you’re seeking. Do you just want mechanical errors pointed out? Phrasing suggestions? Or simply overall thoughts on the flow of the story? Readers will have an easier time helping you if they know what they’re supposed to be looking for.
- If possible, find readers who are interested in the genre you’re writing. They will be more likely to have an interest in reading your story, and they’ll be a better representative of your audience.
- Be pleasant, friendly, and easy to deal with. Remember that you’re looking for a favor.
- Swap drafts with other writers. You’re more likely to get something back when it’s a fair trade, and you’ll typically get a different but equally useful type of feedback than from a strictly reader’s perspective. Another writer will better understand where you’re coming from, and can share in your excitement for the undertaking.
- Be patient. Going over someone else’s writing can be quite the chore. Keep in mind that no one else is going to have the interest and investment in the piece that you are, and people are busy. Some will volunteer to read it, but never actually find the incentive to do so. Some will start it, and not be interested enough to finish. If they don’t get back to you, try not to take it personally – just move on and seek out others.
- Get a few new readers for different draft stages. What once was can color impressions of what now is. A fresh perspective is often handy, as the eventual audience will never see the old stuff.
- Encourage negative feedback. Particularly with close friends and family, who will gladly tell you what they liked, but often shy away from pointing out what’s wrong. Let your readers know you want honesty, and if you think you can take it, invite them to be brutal. Sometimes you’ll have to prod a little – if you’re aware of what you feel are some problem areas, ask specifically what might be done better with them. And, of course, make sure to take the criticism gracefully (remember that it’s only one person’s opinion). Further discussion on points is all well and good, but if you get ornery and defensive, you’ll discourage future honesty. The bad stuff may be harder to hear, but it’s usually more useful.
- On the other hand, do accept the purely positive feedback from a few people. The praise from your staunchest supporters can be an invaluable affirmation to your resolve to keep at it, where only critical evaluation can leave you feeling discouraged. Naturally, keep it balanced – too much flattery won’t help you improve.
- Not everyone will address the same points, so get your readers’ takes on each other’s opinions. One person’s thoughts are just that, but when you find where many coincide, you start to get a clearer picture of what’s working and what isn’t.
- Consider every suggestion, and take about half of them. It may be difficult, but try to imagine how your story would work with each recommendation you receive, giving it serious thought but acknowledging that it is just another option. Let your mind fully process its benefits and downsides. Some will click, some won’t. If you find yourself not taking any of them, you’re probably being too stubborn. But if you’re taking all of them, you might be too compromising with, or lacking a solid grasp on, what you’re trying to do.
- Once you’ve received and had time to mull over your feedback, edit away!
On one final unrelated note, if you missed your chance last month to get a free copy of the Kindle edition of Shauna Scheets‘s The Tower of Boran, you can do so today (10/13) until midnight (U.S. Pacific).