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Get Critical: Giving and Receiving Feedback


What We’re Drinking:

100% Rye Whiskey from the Woodinville Whiskey Company. It’s microbarrelled! I really liked this one, and I’m not a whiskey drinker. It had a really clean taste, without the overwhelming oak that puts me off whiskeys sometimes.

What We’re Saying:

We’re talking about critique! How to give critique, how to receive critique, and some of our favorite sources of critique.

Critique is super important, because without it there’s only so much improvement that you can make on your own, and then you get stuck. So if you’re one of those people that has been keeping your writing a secret, and you want to see where to go from where you are, the best way to do it is to let someone else read it and tell you what they think.

Critique is kind of a delicate subject, because we are often very personally invested in our creative work, and when people give honest critique on it, sometimes our feelings get hurt. I have a lot of experience receiving critique, and there are still times when I have to suppress the urge to defend my work. It’s not always easy!

But let’s address giving critique first. One of the things that I think is important in giving critique on a piece of writing is to point out what’s working. The reason for this is that we’re not great judges of our own work, and while it’s easy to assume that if something is really working, the writer already knows. That’s not always the case, and I’m likely to edit out things that are working (probably because of the kill your darlings mantra we’ve all been fed), in pursuit of fixing the things that aren’t. So I need to know what’s good.

James says that what’s most important to him is to not receive exclusively positive feedback, and that particularly non-writers tend to skip over the critical feedback. Maybe this is to spare feelings, maybe it’s because they don’t have a lot of experience with reading critically. Whatever the reason, without critical feedback, you’re not going to grow as a writer or an artist.

Give your critical feedback, even if you think it might be a matter of personal opinion, because the writer can always ignore your advice if the thing in question is vital to the piece of writing.

We talk a little bit about “impostor syndrome,” which is the absolute certainty that you’re only pretending to be whatever you are. If you experience this, and my understanding is that it’s fairly common, you should feel those feelings, and then you should clench your teeth and move forward. This road can be difficult, and you will have to deal with discouragement and obstacles, even obstacles in your own brain.

A certain amount of vulnerability is essential to good writing, and to moving forward in your writing career.

Writers’ groups are invaluable tools in developing your craft. James thinks that it’s important to have writers around your level, because people who are too far ahead of you and people who are too far behind you won’t be able to give you effective feedback.

In addition, it’s helpful to have people in your writers’ group who have a background, maybe not in writing but in reading the genre that you’re working in. Each genre has different conventions and requirements, and people who aren’t experienced in reading in your genre might not know or understand those conventions or requirements.

Never, ever introduce your work to a new writers’ group as literary fiction. Just trust me on this one.

You can often find local writers’ groups through google, and there are some critique programs that operate exclusively online. That will help if you can’t find a good group, but I personally think that the in person discussion has a lot of value for me.

Your favorite people might not be the best people to help you improve your writing, and that’s okay.

Beta readers are an entirely different animal. They are generally speaking non-writers that you send a finished piece to for feedback. As a note, you may still make changes after this point, you just want to get it as finished as you can on your own before sending it out.

Good beta readers are difficult to find. And it makes sense, reading an entire novel is a big time commitment for some people. My suggestion is to send your writing to as many people as you can get to agree to read it, and a likely response rate is around ten percent. Could be higher than that, could be lower. And when you find a beta reader that reads your work, is timely, and gives thoughtful feedback, hold on to that friend. Readers like that are good as gold.

And don’t get hurt feelings or get angry if people don’t make it through your book. It’s honestly not worth losing a friend over. Just don’t send the next book to them.

Writers and readers give critique differently. Writers often give better feedback on craft, but the reader will be able to give you the best emotional and story-based feedback. They will be able to give you good information on things like pacing and engagement that writers might not be looking for.

If you have stories about seeking a writers’ group, or stories about feedback in general, please let us know!

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