Writing: Feedback in Crit Groups

When you’re seeking feedback from a writing or critique group, what should you look for?

Writing Tip for Today: Here are a few tips on feedback from your crit or writing group:

The Basics

As a writing coach, I’ve helped with several genres, from nonfiction to memoir to thrillers and historical fiction. As a reader, I have my own favorite genres, but when I offer feedback in a genre I rarely or never read, I tell writers that while I may not read their kind of work, I can help with basics of good writing.

If the feedback giver understands your overall story or topic angle, you may receive feedback that strengthens your theme. I’m talking about Big Picture items such as story arc, how well you are sticking to your overview or story promise and characterization, motivation and pace. This type of feedback can be valuable as you progress through your story or topic.

If your feedback comes from someone outside your genre, you should still expect a good critique of writing basics. One caveat: If you ask for feedback in the draft stage, I think it’s too soon to worry about the small stuff such as grammar and usage. While you’re still writing your book, all the “nits” can really sink forward progress. Put that sort of feedback aside for late-stage revisions.

Experience Counts

What about feedback from noobs? While a new writer may not yet know all the ins and outs of story, they can still give feedback on how well you engage the reader, places of confusion or the rate of revelation (pace).

I think the best critique groups have a mixture of more seasoned or published writers and intermediate or beginners. While the seasoned writer or editor is liable to think in editor-speak, noobs and less experienced writers are readers. If they’re also avid readers of your genre, they will lend a kind of expertise that comes from experience.

The opposite is also true. If you’re not happy with your group’s feedback, you may want to hire an editor or writing coach to help you decide what to use and what feedback to lose. Sometimes, writers lean so hard into one genre that they mistakenly don’t consider what readers of your genre are looking for in a book.

The best critique groups have a mixture of more seasoned or published writers and intermediate or beginners.

Consider the Source

You’ve no doubt heard the critique group mantra: Take what you can use and lose the rest. I’ve had other writers tell me what my characters should do or be like, how they ought to solve their problems or even rewrite my scenes during a session. I’m sure I’ve also given prejudicial advice that wasn’t well-received.

When you participate in a writing group, I think it’s important to consider the source of any feedback. Is this person published? Do you respect this person’s feedback in general? We all know about that one writer who always deletes certain words or the one who never thinks your characters are sufficiently motivated. Before you incorporate feedback into your WIP (Work In Progress), be sure that you use or lose according to the source of the feedback.

 Writing groups often give great feedback. I’ve improved my work by listening to feedback that addressed my blind spots. But I’ve also tried to take everyone’s advice—which almost always twists me into knots and muddies my writing. When you receive feedback on your writing, remember to do a gut check. Your intuition often knows what feedback to use and what to lose. Keep Writing!

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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