Soliciting (and Offering) Feedback as a Writer

 

by ARHuelsenbeck

How do you know if what you are writing is any good? Too often I reread something I wrote years ago (or days ago) and discover it’s shamefully incoherent.

Writing is a mostly solitary profession. We craft the words while alone. But we release them into the world at our peril if we don’t get some feedback first.

I am blessed. I belong to a critique group that’s been meeting weekly for 25 years.

I know I can trust these women with my “babies.” They examine them carefully and give me well-reasoned evaluations. Sometimes they change a word or suggest a restructure of a section. Other times they cross out unnecessary passages or propose taking a completely different direction. Although I am not bound by their input, I consider it carefully. My friends have proven the value of their expertise.

So, what if you’re a Lone Writer? How do you find good, honest feedback?

 

Step 1: Join a Writers Group.

I live in a major metropolitan area. If I do an internet search for “writers groups near Phoenix AZ,” dozens pop up. Twenty-five years ago I didn’t even have internet, but I found a writers group meeting announced in the newspaper.

If you live in a remote area, you’ll have a more challenging hunt. But writers gather in senior centers, book stores, coffee shops, libraries, and church basements, among other spots.

Writers groups function in a variety of ways. Some offer how-to presentations or hands-on prompts. Others share information about possible markets for your work and what editors are looking for. They spread the word about professional writers’ organizations and conferences. And most eventually get around to critiquing a few short manuscripts each meeting, usually by voicing their comments after an out-loud reading.

The advantages to this approach are you get to hear what others are contributing (and you get to listen to your own words spoken, which is so different than looking at them on a page), and you hear everyone’s take on the work being critiqued. You also learn how to offer encouragement and constructive criticism by observing others.

By the way, don’t be offended by the feedback you receive. Don’t take it as a personal attack. Let it roll off your back, and write it down anyway to reconsider it tomorrow. There might be a germ of truth in there.

If you are unable to find a writers group, adult education programs and community colleges often offer inexpensive writing classes geared to particular genres: fiction, screenwriting, memoir, journalism, etc. You can interact with writers there while you learn the craft.

 

Step 2: Grow Your Own Critique Group.

Writers Groups are an excellent place to start getting feedback, but most can only take you so far. Gatherings are often large groups, and if everyone brings a manuscript, time won’t allow them all to be read, unless the group breaks up into smaller segments.

Also, some groups are made up largely of beginners, with a few experienced writers who sincerely want to help the initiates get to the next level. Sorry, but that makes for a pool of limited expertise. Additionally, many groups only meet once or twice a month. People are busy, and it’s not easy to find the time.

Yet true growth is only made when you commit to putting in the time.

I would recommend you continue attending the writers group for six months to a couple of years. Meanwhile, look for the participants whose work you admire, people who give perceptive feedback and with whom you feel comfortable. When you can identify six or seven such people, ask them if they would be interested in forming a critique group with you.

Set a time away from the original group when you can discuss the logistics and agree on expectations. My group meets weekly for about 3 hours, and I would recommend that. The more frequently you meet, the more rapidly you will improve. (Remember the 10,000 Hour Rule—see the above link.)

 

3: Give Quality Feedback.

Do for your groupmates what you hope they will do for you—carefully review their work and determine how to make it even better.

At our group, we bring a paper copy of our manuscript pages for each of our attendees (usually five or six of us). We mark our suggestions directly on the paper. The optimum length of a passage to critique is 1000 words, about 4 pages double-spaced, but we vary on that as needed.

Try to bring something to critique every week. But even if you have nothing, go anyway, to support your colleagues. Hold each other accountable. Sometimes life intervenes and you can’t write. (Family first!) But if someone is being lazy, call them on it. If they’re stuck, help them get unstuck.

When you read your partners’ work, go through it more than once if necessary. Get the overall feel of the piece, then go back and look at specifics. Try to catch the author’s vision for the piece. What has to happen for the vision to be achieved?

  • If the writer has done something particularly well, be sure to mention it.
  • Correct the typos you see.
  • If any section is unclear, mark it. If you have a solution, suggest it. If not, write a question about the content so the writer can address it.
  • Cross out unnecessary words.
  • Replace passive words with active ones.
  • If the passage would benefit by organizing it differently, suggest that.
  • Point out redundancies and inconsistencies.
  • Write a word of encouragement.
  • If you know of a potential market, identify it.

I have written this essay from the point of view of a writer, but feedback is valuable—if not crucial—to all artists. What suggestions do you have for finding/giving feedback for your art? Please share your comments below.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by ARHuelsenbeck. She is a wife, a mother of five (grown) children, and a former elementary general music teacher. She blogs about the arts and the creative process at ARHtisticLicense.com, and is currently writing a YA mystical fantasy, a Bible study guide, and a bunch of picture books.

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “Soliciting (and Offering) Feedback as a Writer”

    1. Writing all by yourself is scary, too. If you’re a writer, you’re already doing something very intimidating–congratulations! Checking out a local writers club is only one baby step beyond that. You can do it!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I am in a novel writing critique group. We meet monthly. I turn in first drafts ( usually 10 to 15 pages). I often comment in the header that it is my first draft. I once commented that I would like comments on tone, voice, pace, sections that bore the reader, places there is not enough description. Two out of the four others continue to line edit my work to what they think sounds better. All four are writing thrillers and mysteries. My goal is a character driven story .
    I want to quit the group

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear your frustration. Are any of the others published? You might need to cultivate some friends who are already traditionally published, or who have self-published with nice sales. One way to find writers who are farther along than you is to join a local NaNoWriMo group or a professional writers organization and to frequent workshops and conferences and schmooze with the other attendees.
      I find myself line editing when I come up against awkward sentence structure or wordiness. You said you’re bringing first drafts (and when that’s all you’ve got, that’s what you’re going to bring). Of course, many times the first draft has little in common with the finished product. However, the first draft is where you get your thoughts down, and where you learn how to express your ideas. If your critiquers are getting distracted by your voice (which you might not have found yet in your first draft), don’t fault them for wanting to tweak your words. They mean well. They’re just not giving you the depth you want. Don’t give up on them until you find a better avenue. (And maybe there’s something you can learn from them.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great suggestions on giving feedback. I love my writer’s group because everyone seems to focus on something different – some on the mechanics of writing, others (like me) on the big picture. You really need all of that to make it work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on PTL Perrin Writes… and commented:
    Feedback. We writers need it! We love those stellar reviews we get from our readers, but getting those reviews requires writing good books. For that, we need people to help us along the way.

    Andrea Huelsenbeck lays out the reasons and the methods for giving and receiving great feedback. Here’s her guideline for critiquing another writer’s work, whether you’re in a critique group or a Beta reader. I’m paying attention! I hope you are, too.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s