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How to Give and Receive Feedback in Writing Groups

Author and creative writing tutor, Beth loves helping her students improve their technique.

Constructive feedback in a writing group can help improve your technique.

Constructive feedback in a writing group can help improve your technique.

How to Give Positive and Negative Feedback on Creative Writing

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

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. 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. 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.

3. 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.”

4. 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.

What Is Constructive Feedback?

Constructive feedback is specific, focused, and based on objective observation. It is different from comments that give praise and/or criticise.

Praise and criticism are personal subjective judgments. They are comments about a performance effort or outcome. Praise is a favorable judgment. Criticism is a negative or unfavorable comment.

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”.

Bring work to the group that is worthy of consideration. Offering scribbled notes is as much an insult as coming to a party without a gift. If you're not ready to share your work, then let your group know. Offering criticism to others if you haven’t performed your own tasks isn’t fair. When it’s your turn to have your work reviewed, identify any particular issues you have with it. Your peers are more likely to give you honest, helpful feedback if they believe you're open to advice and criticism.


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 Start Your Own Writing Group

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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