I participated in a writing group where we’d take turns submitting a few chapters of our work for critique. I submitted a portion of a novel I had been working on, excited for the group to see my talent.
During the feedback session they started with the good. Most stated that they loved my dialogue and two pointed out the beautiful imagery of a particular scene. Then came the bad. I had misspelled some words, my punctuation was a mess, and I brought a number of things into the story that I didn’t use, but the worst was my misuse of point of view. In one chapter, I switched POV seven times.
My first reaction was to give up. I obviously was not the writer I thought. But as I read and reread the comments I began to comprehend and see what my friends were pointing out. As I applied their suggestions, I could see that my writing ability increased.
I have had several similar experiences over the years. As I accepted and applied the feedback I was given, my craft became stronger. I love receiving helpful feedback; it really is a gift. Winston Churchill said, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
The following is a list of thoughts in receiving and giving feedback.
In receiving feedback:
- Actively solicit feedback. I have learned that everyone has an opinion. The smart ones don’t usually share that opinion unless they’re asked.
- Check your ego at the door. Sometimes criticism can be tough to swallow. The worst thing I can do is to argue with feedback, especially if it is solicited. Besides looking like a dope, arguing closes the receiver’s mind but may also shut down a valuable source.
- Be grateful for good feedback. Over the years of soliciting feedback, I’ve gotten the impression that many tread lightly, not wanting to hurt my feelings. As I’ve shown my gratitude, I’ve received more than criticism; I’ve been given greater feedback and encouragement.
- Not all feedback is good advice. I spent some time, sharing my work on a website known as Absolute Write. They have an extensive critique section, and most of what I received there was good advice. Some however was not. I’ve learned not to take every critique as if it were coming from a qualified source. I’ll often research the source to determine the value of the feedback. If there is advice that I don’t agree with, I’ll research it or solicit other opinions. By doing this I’ve usually been able to conclude whether the advice is sound or garbage.
In giving solicited feedback:
- State your qualifications. This will help the receiver know how to value your feedback.
- Start with the good. I have learned just as much from the positive feedback that I have received as the negative. In my example above, I studied what it was that made my dialogue good, then worked to improve on it and incorporate those techniques in other aspects of my craft. Praise can also help settle the receiver’s insecurities and soften any criticism.
- Be honest and specific. There have been times where I have softened my solicited feedback in fear of hurting another’s feelings. I’ve since realized that by doing so, I probably did more harm than good. People will respect honesty and those that are honest. Also it doesn’t help to just say something is good or bad, instead indicate why with specifics.
- Offer some solutions. The group that evaluated my work pointed out the problems I had with point of view. They took the time to go over specifics with me, showing me each of the seven POV changes in the chapter and then they referred me to several sources where I could learn more about the subject.
The greatest gift that I have received as an aspiring writer is the time others have taken to help me learn how to improve my craft through good honest feedback.