Writing Exercises: "The Art of Good Feedback"

We've spent the last few posts discussing writing communities and what to look for in choosing the right critique group. Now we're going to discuss giving good feedback, the most crucial aspect of being a member of a critique group. When it comes to critique and what you will encounter when doing it, of two things I am very certain: 1) Your critique group will most likely have a hand-out instruction page for critique and 2) you’ll be exposed to a variety of genres and craft you would not pick up in the bookstore. Now both of these things are good because this is where a different kind of training for you, as a writer, will begin.

Through critique groups, you’re going to be exposed to an enormous diversity of writing—all in rough draft form. Here, you’re going to have to use your powers as a writer to read like a writer. What this means is, you’re going to have to do something new when reading someone else’s work-in-progress which involves at least the following: setting expectations, considering the format of feedback and giving space for the writer to redraft. We’ll take these one at a time for better understanding.

1) Set expectations

As writers we will all have our standards to things. Our standards are diverse and open-minded all while we boast the full intention to be helpful to our fellow artists. I may nit-pick about things the writers to my left and right in the circle may care little about, but for the benefit of the writer we are all critiquing, I will point out grammar, plot-holes and the possible Mary Sue. When looking at a piece to critique, have immeadiate standards ready. This is not to say that you need to decide if the story is any good or not by reading the first sentence, but you should definitely have some rules the piece should adhere to to give an honest review. Don’t give a pass on a piece because you want to spare the feelings of the writers, we’re all having to take it with a grain of salt.

Anyway, here’s an example: when I look at a piece the following things will distract me from giving it a stellar review. 1) A lot of spelling errors. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of them too, but when its on its own level, I stop paying attention to the story. 2) Cliché dialog is another huge thing for me. My rule with clichés is this: everything starts out as a cliché no matter how seasoned you are at your craft. The only way to get rid of your chlichés is to work your way out of it. I am reminded that I am looking at a piece that is still in development when I ctritique it. In terms of dialog, some people have a hard time with it, others don’t. That’s ok, but I’ll be scratching up any cheesy dialog I find and offering the writer try again. 3) Mary Sues this works into my rule with clichés. Every character an potentially start out as a Mary Sue until you work your character out of it. Again, totally fine, but if I see anything resembling a Mary Sue, you better believe you’ll see my chicken scratch all over your page telling you to work on it. The list goes on with other things I’ll look for but we have more to discuss so I’ll spare you the agony.

2) Considering the format of feedback

Every critique group will have its own set of rules when it comes to what to critique and how much, etc. (traditionally everyone will tell you not to fuss over grammar and spelling and prioritize the story, characters, craft, etc.). This is one of those things you will have to consider when picking and choosing a group but its not entirely what we’re discussing here. Here, you need to focus on how you’re delivering the critique. Are you and the writer simply emailing and keeping tabs in case they have questions about your notes? Or are you meeting over coffee and drilling through everything? Is chicken scratch in the margins acceptable or do you need to write a letter? Be aware of what the group wants, and then what the individual writer will wants, because either can pick and choose. You’ll be asked in any group what you prefer because your group members will want to accomidate you and your needs as a writer.

3) Give the other writer space to redraft

As the one critiquing, you’re only really a reviewer. It will always be up to the writer do decide what criticism they will take and which they will discard for their peace. It isn’t a bad thing to have an opinion as every member of a good critique group tends to simply have enthusiasm for the piece to become the best version of itself. Just remember to have som erestraint as the writer’s word [concerning their own piece] is law.

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