Evaluating Feedback

As writers, we want to produce our best work. To that end, many writers, both new and seasoned, belong to active critique groups. You might not present your NaNoWriMo chapters to your group while you’re racing to the 50K finish line, but at some point we all need feedback.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are some thoughts and questions on making the most of a critique group:

  • When Should You Show Off Your Baby? Some writers never show their drafts to anyone. Others need reassurance and guidance every step of the way. Wherever you land on the spectrum, remember that you can’t please everybody, but you can usually improve a draft, even if the tweak is small. I don’t mind critiquing an idea that’s still very rough, but I’ve heard from other writers who get irritated if they feel the writer hasn’t cleaned up their manuscript first. What do you think? Is it OK for a writer to reread the same piece in group multiple times? Or do you wish writers would bring a rewrite, but then move on?
  • Which Method Works for Your Group? Generally, two methods of critique are dominant: The first, used by many writing workshops, is called the Clarion Method. The reader prints out a copy for all members of the group. The group takes home the copy, reads, mulls and marks comments, brings back the copy at next meeting. Each member gets a couple of minutes to summarize their feedback, while the author remains silent, and then the written copies are returned to writer. The other common method, which I prefer, is more immediate. I call it the Real Time Method. The author provides a copy for each member, and then the writer reads aloud the work while members follow along, mull and mark their copies. At the conclusion of the piece, the author is silent while each member gives verbal feedback in addition to written comments, and then returns copies to owner.  What do you think? Have you used one or both methods, and do you prefer one or the other? Why?
  • How Do You Know If Advice is Solid? Here is where subjectivity takes over. In a single group session, you may receive conflicting advice, or (especially in new writers’ groups) you may not receive vital feedback at all. I used to panic over feedback, and wound up ruining my writing by taking everyone’s advice. Now, when I consider feedback, I try to think about the advice, and consider whether it rings true. I may not want to hear some advice and need time to process. Or, I may decide to reject a piece of feedback if I feel the advice is shortsighted or narrow. To learn more about what good writing is, I read A LOT, I try to get the best feedback I can and I try to stay open to feedback that will involve a lot of work to correct my story’s flaws. What do you think? Have you received feedback that you were sure was wrong? How did you resolve that conflict?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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