How to Give and Receive Constructive Feedback in Writing Groups

Updated on December 9, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

I teach creative writing to adults and I love helping my students improve their writing skills.

How to Give Positive and Negative Feedback on Creative Writing

  1. Make your comments specific.
  2. Use the STAR method to comment.
  3. Be fair and balanced in your comments.
  4. Be prepared to accept criticism yourself.
  5. Keep emotion out of the equation.
  6. Be generous with compliments.

A relaxed and informal group helps people contribute honest feedback.
A relaxed and informal group helps people contribute honest feedback. | Source

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!

Are you a member of a writing group?

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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.

Situation

“I found the first chapter very difficult to follow as there were so many new characters being introduced every few lines.”

Task

“The action in the opening chapter needs to be made more focused and easier to follow.”

Action

“Perhaps you could concentrate on the action of a few key characters and introduce others in the next chapter?”

Result

“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.

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 "The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide: How to Make Revisions, Self-Edit, and Give and Receive Feedback" 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.

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.

Discussing your work helps you improve.
Discussing your work helps you improve. | Source

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”.

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”.

Choose Your Critics Carefully

Improve Your Writing Skills and Make New Friends

Sometimes it is difficult to be self-critical. Reading your script aloud in a writer’s group can help. Constructive feedback from a supportive writing group of authors can work wonders with your writing. Choose a group where you feel comfortable. If there is not one nearby then start one of your own. It’s a great way to network with other writers.

Each writer takes a turn in reading a page out loud from their work in progress. The rest of the group then discusses the passage they have heard. The discussion should focus on what made the story interesting and memorable. You will be amazed at the issues others notice. Treat it as a learning experience and be willing to explain why you wrote the scene the way you did. If you are able to accept constructive criticism your novel writing skills will improve.

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.

How to Use Honest Feedback to Learn and Grow

It Can Be Tough Giving Honest Feedback

When you ask for feedback from friends or members of your writing group, you put them in a tough position. They want to help you, but not to hurt your feelings. They want to be honest about your writing, but think a few white lies will soften the blow. One way around this dilemma is to anonymize pieces of writing that are to be critiqued.

All group members should type a piece of work of about 500 words. These should not be hand-written as that can identify the author. Shuffle, photocopy and hand these passages out to all group members. Everyone in the group must then comment on each piece of writing using the STAR method described above. if you and your friends become constructive critics, everyone's writing will improve.

Comments

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  • Glenn Stok profile image

    Glenn Stok 

    2 years ago from Long Island, NY

    These are important points that all waiters should consider. Feedback is always useful and sharing thoughts about writing is advantageous.

    A few years ago HubPages offered us the opportunity to run local meetup groups for writers to get together just for this purpose. I ran weekly "HubMeets" for a year, but as you included in your poll, it became more of a social group than a writer's group.

    Sadly, HubPages stopped promoting these meetups, since others had similar experiences, as noted in the forums. It seems most people seek out something other than constructive criticism.

  • jamesplee profile image

    James Lee 

    2 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

    I miss workshopping my writing from college days. Back then it was as much a lesson in giving as receiving. Sometimes it's rough to get feedback via the internet, but it come with the territory.

  • PegCole17 profile image

    Peg Cole 

    2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

    This rational way of giving and receiving feedback on our work sounds useful. Negative feedback is incredibly difficult to swallow when we are attached to our work but it's essential in improving our writing.

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 

    2 years ago from Queensland Australia

    I agree with MsDora. This information was very helpful. I had never heard of the STAR method before but it sounds very useful. Thanks for sharing.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Weithers 

    2 years ago from The Caribbean

    You give very helpful instructions. I especially like your explanation of the STAR method of commenting. You inspire me to find and join a writing group.

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