Giving and Receiving Feedback in Writing Groups (Constructive Criticism)
Welcome Constructive Criticism
All writers need feedback, but some are more receptive to the experience than others. Some ask family and friends for their comments. This is ok when you’re a new writer, but as you become more experienced, you’ll find that your nearest and dearest are being kind in their comments. They love you and what you write. They assume that by giving only positive feedback they are supporting your writing endeavors.
To grow as a writer, you need constructive criticism. Only by learning the negative aspects of your writing can you improve. However, your writing is your “baby” and personal to you. Comments given in a destructive way can be hurtful. The guidelines in this article will help you both give and to receive feedback in a positive and useful manner.
How to Give Positive and Negative Feedback on Creative Writing
- Make your comments specific.
- Use the STAR method to comment.
- Be fair and balanced in your comments.
- Be prepared to accept criticism yourself.
- Keep emotion out of the equation.
- Be generous with compliments.
Choose Your Critics Carefully
1. Make Your Feedback Specific
It’s easy to waffle and fudge around an issue. You see something amiss with your friend’s creative writing piece but you don’t want to crush her confidence. You “um” and “err” and then give some very general comments that are of no practical use to her at all. This is where a good facilitator at a writer’s group can really show their value.
Facilitating a writing group is not an easy role. Not everyone has the required skill set. You need to be relaxed and friendly and able to get to the specifics of the criticism. You should be able to tease out the nub of the issue raised in a non-threatening manner.
Specific is good; generalizations are bad!
2. Use the STAR Method
STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, Result. It’s a useful way to describe what has happened and what you would like to happen in any situation. In the context of giving feedback to other writers on their work, here is an example of how you could use it.
“I found the first chapter very difficult to follow as there were so many new characters being introduced every few lines.”
“The action in the opening chapter needs to be made more focused and easier to follow.”
“Perhaps you could concentrate on the action of a few key characters and introduce others in the next chapter?”
“This would result in a much clearer narrative and I would be more engaged in the story.”
3. Be Fair and Balanced in Your Comments
OK, so none of us are saints. Remember that comments you make may be taken to heart by your fellow writer. Don’t make wild accusations such as “you always do such and such in your stories”. Focus on the one chapter or page you’ve been asked to comment on. Balance a negative comment with a positive one. Try and make the positive comments outnumber the negatives, whilst trying not to over-sugar the pill.
Are you a member of a writing group?
4. Be Prepared to Accept Criticism Yourself
If you’re unwilling to take feedback on your own writing, then you shouldn’t be willing to censure others. As the saying goes “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. I recommend "" It's an excellent book by Becky Levine with lots of hints and tips on how to make a writer's group critique session go well. The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback
A writing group can be a helpful supportive way to learn from others. Both giving and receiving constructive criticism will help improve your writing skills. A good writer is not only a wordsmith, but also a good listener and avid reader. These are the skills you will use to good effect in a writer’s group discussion.
We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve.— Bill Gates
5. Keep Emotion Out of the Equation
If you feel your heart start to race or the pitch of your voice go higher you are becoming too emotional. Constructive criticism should take place when both parties, giver and receiver, are calm and receptive. A facilitator can intervene if they see an interaction has become too personal. It’s amazing how tempers can flare under the influence of alcohol and old rivalries. To maintain a calm and open conversation between all group members, many writing groups decide that “what is said within the group, stays within the group”.
Criticism (even when constructive) is more likely to be accepted if it is tempered by regular compliments. A ratio of 5:1 compliment to complaint is a handy rule-of-thumb.— Mark Tyrrell, Uncommon Knowledge Ltd
6. Be Generous with Compliments
The rules for giving compliments are virtually the same as those for voicing critical comments. Be specific and be constructive. It’s more meaningful to give a compliment such as “your description of the hero was so vivid I can picture him standing in front of me”, rather than a more general “I love the way you write”.
Join A Writer's Group to Improve Your Writing
How to Find a Writing Group
Some places have a glut of writer’s groups, while others have none. Here are some suggestions on how to find about writers and happenings in your area.
- Check out the local library for a list of groups in your area.
- Free newspapers often have advertising for local writing events and new writer’s groups starting up.
- Universities and colleges nearby may have writing courses or study days that would put you in touch with like-minded people.
- You could start your own writing group with friends or advertise for new members.
If you reject feedback, you also reject the choice of acting in a way that may bring you abundant success.— John Mattone (author)