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Finessing feedback

June 7, 2013

It’s tough to give and sometimes tougher to receive critical feedback on creative writing. Our writing group members revisit guidelines for giving feedback several times each year to try to achieve a good balance for readers and writers. Here are some of the guidelines that we’ve found useful:

Writers are asked to:

  • Provide some context for the piece (e.g. first draft, close to final draft).
  • Ask for specific feedback (e.g. Are the characters fully realized? Where does the story drag?).

Readers are asked to structure feedback in a way that helps the writer and respects their efforts. All feedback is geared to identifying the strengths of each piece and to helping the writer find ways to realize the intention of her story. Readers are asked to:

  • Address the writer’s specific questions.
  • Come prepared to discuss the following questions:
    • What is the story about?
    • What grips or interests you (i.e. what works?)
    • What distracts you? What pulls you out of the story (i.e. doesn’t work.)? Be specific.
  • “Keep it on the page.” Point to specific examples of what the writer is doing well or what needs to be improved.
  • Consider the one thing the writer could work on to improve this story or strengthen the core.
  • Provide written feedback to the writer.

We have found that posing questions to the writer is more helpful than making suggestions.  Questions help the writer understand where readers trip over details. But it’s up to the writer to solve the problem as in the example below:

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Most writers draw inspiration and vivid details from the deepest wells of their lived experience.  Feedback that balances a critique of the craft with sensitive regard for the writer’s feelings and intentions is a great gift.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Frank Gavin permalink
    June 10, 2013 10:27 am

    How do the writers reply to the readers and how do they indicate whether they have made changes to the text in response to readers’ questions or comments? And how do readers feel if their comments and questions don’t result in changes?

  2. Valerie McDonald permalink
    June 26, 2013 10:40 am

    Good questions. We have a rule that writers have to listen to the feedback without commenting, unless they have a question or address a question from the readers. Once the feedback is complete, they are free to comment on what they heard. Some writers choose to state what they will or won’t do with suggested changes or how they will address questions. Some prefer to take time to absorb the comments. We often see how the feeback was integrated into later drafts, but there is no formal expectation that the writer will address each comment. How do readers feel? I imagine that depends on how strongly they felt about the comments they made.

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