How to Handle Writing Feedback

You’re committed to learning the writing craft, and you joined a critique group to further your skills. While a large portion of the feedback you receive may be positive and instructional, it’s quite normal to feel a sting as your peers shred what you thought was a brilliant piece of writing.
Writing Tip for Today: How can you get past the hurt so the feedback can help?
A little background here: My first group was a bunch of writers who were light years ahead of me. My measly poetry pub credits did little to impress them–especially since I started out by typing single-spaced on onion-skin paper. So I kept trying, harder and harder. One night I walked in with an article I thought I’d nailed. The group had me for dinner. I was nearly in tears. But that night, while licking my wounds, a light bulb appeared over my head. What if presenting a piece to a critique group wasn’t meant to be a performance? That revelation changed everything for me. Here are some ways you too can get past the idea that your reading is a performance:

  • You’re Not Letterman. A monologue is different from reading a piece for feedback. Avoid using different voices for characters, physical gestures or other special effects that your reader won’t have. If you read in a steady voice, not too fast, critiquers can focus on the words, not your performance.
  • No Simon Cowell Here, Either. Remember that although your group is a first reader gate, you’d much rather make mistakes here than in the public eye. If your critique group seems overly harsh, suggest a review of “positive critique practices,” such as the “sandwich method,” wherein each critiquer gives a positive, a work-on-this and another positive.
  • Remember Your Audience. If your group contains members who’d NEVER read the kind of stuff you write, take their criticisms with a grain of salt–or find a group of writers closer to your genre.
  • Beware the Mutual Admiration Society. You want to learn your craft, not be heaped with praise week after week. Learn to “take what you can use and lose the rest.” Challenge the other members, especially if you’re all new writers, to go beyond saying non-helpful stuff like, “It did/didn’t flow well.” What can you do with that? Better to narrow the area you’re referring to and giving specific feedback. “You switched from past to present tense on page three,” or “There’s a POV shift on p. 4 that confused me,” might be more helpful.

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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