We’ve been talking a lot about giving and receiving valid feedback in our writers group recently. It’s one of the main benefits of joining a writers group: to receive feedback on your writing. Because we’re a mixed group, i.e. not focused in terms of genre, the task of critiquing one another’s work is complex. We usually choose to break into two groups, poetry and prose, which still leaves us with a wide field of genres. Obviously, it would be easier to critique one another’s work if we were all writing in the same genre, e.g. Creative Nonfiction, or Romance Writing, or Crime Fiction. We could then focus more narrowly on the aspects to do with good writing within that genre. But as we are a mixed bunch, we have to consider one another’s creative goals, when critiquing, before we launch into feedback. Some of us have expressed a concern that our feedback is too “soft”, that is, that we are overly concerned with not hurting the person’s feelings, rather than on being honest. However, others have been aware of the sensitive nature of giving criticism, especially in a group setting, and feel that it is right and proper to tread carefully, or at least to be well-informed when critiquing. Another point to consider is that it is preferable to become your own self-editor, ultimately, and to know when you get it right.
Over the past year, we have started developing a list of points to help us improve our skills in this area.
Guidelines for Giving Criticism
1. As an editor of others’ work, it is important, ideally, to be widely read.
2. Take into account the basic issues of narrative structure, characterisation, evocative and atmospheric language, vivid settings, scenes creation, and believable dialogue: relevant to all types of good creative writing.
3. Take on the task of critiquing with a positive and helpful intention; read carefully, trying to understand the writer’s point of view and creative goal; consider the genre and the narrator’s purpose in writing.
4. It is better not to offer criticism if you do not like the genre or style of writing under consideration.
5. Is the emphasis more on story, as opposed to experimentation with language focused on psychological or philosophical issues?
6. Remember that some people may be highly sensitive in relation to some pieces on offer. This is especially true for new writers, or those who have not offered their work for feedback before.
7.Think carefully about what is not working for you, and what is working, before you offer criticism. Give the positives first and say why. Give the negatives next, and say why it doesn’t work for you, and how you think it could be made better.
10.Be truthful in your criticism. The writer needs guidance not niceties.
Guidelines for Accepting Criticism
1. Be prepared to receive negative, as well as positive criticism.
2. Try to separate yourself from the work as much as possible.
3. If possible, look on your work as a “product” after it is “out there.”
4. Look on feedback as a valuable means of improving your writing.
5. Be ready to respond to negative criticism if you feel that it is not warranted; give your reasons
for your opinion.
6. Rewrite your work in accordance with the feedback received, and see if it is better.
7. Do not change your work if you still disagree with the criticism.
8. Remember that all writers have received negative feedback at times.
9. One suggestion is not to show your work until you feel confident about it.
10. A sure sign that you can write is that you keep going after knockbacks.