Grind Writers Group
Getting and giving feedback
by Margo Lamont
If you’re going to read a piece, bring half a dozen paper printouts. Some people do not do well hearing things read aloud; they need to follow along in print.
- Do not argue and justify why you wrote this or did that. That takes up way too much time, then others don’t get a chance to read.
- Keep the introduction to the piece brief. If it’s not somehow obvious that it’s a poem or short story etc., say that. If it’s part of a larger work, give a brief synopsis. Did I say brief? What’s important is to stop talking and start reading.
- Before you read, ask some specific question(s) you actually have about your work, such as: I’d like to know if you think character X is believable? Have I used too much dialect? Does the ending seem realistic? Does this excerpt make you want to hear more? etc. Otherwise you may get general comments (“That was good”) that are not very helpful.
- Basically you need to be quiet during feedback, unless there’s specifically something you don’t understand. It’s not a discussion time. Instead: just listen and make notes.
- If you feel someone has misinterpreted something you wrote: that may mean you need to re-write and clarify. If five people say they thought the action was taking place on another planet and it wasn’t – you need to fix that. This is exactly why you want feedback. Fresh eyes.
- Do not interrupt. And when they are finished, say thank you, but don’t talk -- just look for the next person to start their feedback.
- Use a grain of salt. Feedback is only one person’s opinion (unless 10 people say the same thing).
- You may find it useful to ask someone else to read your work out loud. It’s amazing what you notice when someone else reads your work out. It may not be the way it sounded in your head – but that can be a good thing to know.
- You don’t have to change anything based on feedback. It’s your piece. Some people may simply not like, or get, your style. Or you may be writing an experimental piece or writing in a genre and they are unfamiliar with its conventions. (It may be okay to explain some of that—but not at any length!)
- Revise the piece, then bring it to read again and see if the reactions have changed. You may need to do this several times.
- Keep in mind others want time to read their piece and get feedback.
- If people note down copy-edits on your manuscript, be thankful. They are helping you look the best you can on paper to an editor.
- Read #1 again. It was #5 at first but I moved it to #1 position because it’s that important.
It's very brave of someone to read their work ever, anywhere—and especially to a group of other writers.
- So when someone finishes reading, show your admiration by tapping your fingers on the table. You don't even have to like the piece to do that.
- Feedback should be fairly brief—and helpful; supportive.
- Do not talk about your work and your similar or experiences and your life as it seems to relate to the reader’s piece yada yada yada. This is about them and their work. Don’t launch into anecdotes.
- Keep it about their piece. Full stop.
- Our mantra: “We’re giving feedback about what’s on the page. Our feedback focuses on how to make it better. (It’s not about you).” (Thanks, George).
- Make sure the person has given you a couple of specific questions they’d like you to answer about the piece they're reading. General feedback is not very helpful. So stop them and say, “What is your question for us?”
- You want to send them away enthusiastic about continuing to write – and possibly with practical suggestions about how they might improve that piece of writing. However, it’s not your job to rewrite their story: you may not be able to solve internal manuscript problems, but that’s okay. Sometimes just becoming aware of an issue is useful.
- If you think what someone has read is complete crap, keep that to yourself. Harsh negative criticism does not help people keep on writing. And by keeping on writing their writing will improve. This does not mean you have to praise work you think is awful. But if that’s the only way you know how to say it, then know that there’s someone else who will be able to say it less damagingly.
- If there were places where you stopped reading because you were distracted, puzzling out something out that wasn’t clear, or even becoming bored – put a star in that place in the manuscript, and explain to them later what was going on. The last thing any writer wants is for a reader to stop reading and be in their own head. So we want to know about anything that interrupts the flow.
- If it’s not a genre you’re comfortable with, don’t feel you have to say anything.
- If the person receiving feedback starts to argue with you or provide justifications about why they wrote this or did that – hold your hand up and ask them to just take notes, knowing that yours is only one opinion. The idea is not to get into an extended dialogue during feedback. It takes up too much group time – and other people want to read and receive feedback as well. You can always talk to the person on the break or after the meeting.
- Yes, do write your copy-edit suggestions on the manuscript if you notice typos, spelling errors, formatting errors, inconsistencies, anything like that. Copy editing is not nit-picking: it’s saving the person from sending an embarrassing manuscript full of errors to editors who will be highly distracted by errors because most of them have previously been copy editors. If there are way too many, perhaps offer to copy-edit the piece at another time.
- You do not need to list each misspelling or copy-edit at the out-loud feedback. Write it on the manuscript; talk to them about it afterwards if necessary. If you don’t understand certain words, look them up.
- Read #2 again.
If someone has received your piece by email, and has taken the time to proof and read it, take the time to send them a thank you. It’s very time-consuming to give a thoughtful good read to a piece and provide written feedback.
Something you'd like to add?
Please email your suggestions, your pet peeves about giving or getting feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If I use any of your suggestions they'll become part of my piece and under my copyright.
©2014 Margo Lamont