Why Truly Helpful Feedback is Hard to Come By



by Meg Dowell

When we share our work with others, we are usually looking for one thing: feedback.

Constructive criticism is an important part of the writing process. Without it, we might still be able to improve, but we’d do so at a much slower and less specific rate. Having someone hand us back our work with specific notes on things we can fix and improve on isn’t always easy, but over time we get used to it. If we can find a good feedback source. And that’s a big IF.

Why is feedback–good, helpful feedback–so hard to find? At least, early on in the game? It isn’t because editors and other writers don’t enjoy giving feedback (sometimes, that’s the most fun part about it). It isn’t that editors and other writers have no interest in supporting their peers.

It’s just that…really good, really helpful feedback? It takes a LOT of time.

I’ve been an editor for a long time. When I was still an intern, my favorite thing  to do was give detailed feedback to my writers. When that and school were my only responsibility, I could spend hours on just giving feedback alone.

I can’t, unfortunately, do that anymore. I’m not one to use busyness as an excuse (trust me). But prioritizing these days is essential. As much as I would love to go through every single article posted on our magazine’s website daily and give suggestions, I just can’t. I have editors underneath me who do that. They do a great job. I can trust them. That doesn’t mean I don’t still wish I could work with every writer individually. It’s my job to help them improve, but most of that is done indirectly.

If I could read and respond to every single article one of my editors and writers publish, if comments and requests didn’t pile up, if there weren’t so many other priorities, I would. But if I spend a large chunk of time giving the most thorough and helpful feedback possible to one person, it’s only fair that I do the same for everyone. And in my case that just isn’t possible.

THAT’S why finding people to read and respond to your work is a pretty trying task. We all want to give you amazing feedback. It just isn’t possible.

Don’t take it personally when your requests for feedback go unanswered, or any feedback you do get seems halfhearted. I never did get feedback on the creative writing portfolio I turned in as my senior project in college. I’m not bitter about it (anymore). I get it now. Even two pages is a lot to get through. 30 pages would be quite a feat. And more pages just piles on more work.

When you do reach out for feedback. give your “editor” one specific thing you want feedback on, to make it easier for them. Are you worried about grammar and spelling? Character development? Continuity? Give them one thing to focus on so you both will have a better experience.



Meg Dowell is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.

25 thoughts on “Why Truly Helpful Feedback is Hard to Come By

  1. I think you are spot on with your points. I used to write copy and press releases, and I found I got the best feedback when I was specific with my editor where I thought I needed help. These were smaller projects, of course, a few pages at most, but I wasn’t the only one handing stuff into her to edit. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you liked it. 🙂 I have not edited much fiction but as a journalist I can say when someone comes to me, the editor, asking for feedback, it does help to know whether they need help with structure or wording or if they just want me to make sure there aren’t any typos (otherwise you have to edit in multiple stages, it’s more thorough but it takes longer).


  2. It is hard to get useful feedback from knowledgeable people. That’s why writer’s contests can be so useful. There are a number of Romance Writer’s contest judged by authors and editors. I’ve gotten great tips on story structure, grammar and style. If anyone’s interested, Valley Forge Shelia Contest is accepting submissions through April 16. http://www.vfrw.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not fun or always helpful for that specific book, BUT – you can always make note of general things and commentary and in some cases apply it to your next project. Always seek to improve. 🙂


  3. The problem is, no one editor can do it all. We need one for content, one for grammatical issues, and one to proofread. Sometimes, a “content editor” is most important, especially for a novel. This is why beta readers have become so popular. Their input about what does and doesn’t work in a story can be helpful to an author early on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is true because there are so many components to writing. It’s like your spouse can’t fulfill all your needs, so it’s true that not one editor can correct or address all your issues. I think the best thing to address first is how the story hangs. Forget the grammar for a while or even the mechanics. Does the story draw you. Are you in a dream. If you find yourself engrossed in the story, then that’s really more than halfway. The grammar and such are easy to correct. In fact, I think that’s the best problem to have. I’d rather be a bad speller than a bad story teller.


    2. Yes, absolutely! Do you have personal experience with beta readers, either as an author or as a reader? Pros and cons? I’m not at a point where I’m ready for that yet but I’m looking into it as a possibility.


  4. I know how true that is. Asked a long time friend over a year ago to review a book I’d written and give me some feedback on it before I sent it out to Literary Agents. Over a year late I gave up–on the feedback part at least.


  5. Great post! I was very lucky with my betas, a couple of them gave incredible feedback and I will ask them to do it again if they have the time. Giving feedback is a skill and can be learned and nurtured, and not everyone is naturally good at it.
    The work editors do is fantastic and I’m eternally grateful to mine for the work she does.


  6. I am so glad you posted this a person who is writing her first book I needed to read this. I needed to know that when I have people read over this what to ask if from the professionals who are busy who are doing me a favor to the person I am professional I am paying and to the friends with a keen eye I am asking to look over my work. I have also have to know what to expect. This was helpful! Sometimes we forget to see it from the other side.


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