I had an experience with a past writing group that really shook my confidence in my writing ability. Every member of the group had an opportunity to share a short piece of their novel and the other members of the group provided comments in writing and then a discussion on the piece ensued. I had never shared my writing with anyone before and I was nervous, for good reason as it turned out. The theme of the conversation was “sure it would probably sell in the romance genre, but are you proud of it?”
I’m still sorting through my emotions regarding that experience (for many obvious reasons) and unfortunately, that’s about all I remember from the session. I’m sure there were encouraging and constructive comments given as well, but I couldn’t get beyond that piece of feedback to hear any of the others. I went home and filed the manuscript; I have never looked at it or the comments since.
However, the session wasn’t a complete loss. I put some thought into how to more effectively receive feedback so that I can make better use of it in the future. If you are ready to share your work with someone else, here are some things to keep in mind when asking for feedback…
1. Be open to feedback.
The first step is to ask for it: is the person reading for pleasure or do you want their honest opinion? If you ask for it, you have to listen to it (it is up to you whether you implement it). Don’t forget to stay tuned to your body language and facial expressions. It is hard to accept negative feedback; but it is also hard to give it. You may not agree with what they say, and that’s ok, but defensiveness may discourage future feedback.
2. Listen to understand.
Set aside your fear, worry and anger and try to listen closely to what is actually being said. Summarize what you have heard and repeat it back to them. Even feedback that is delivered in a less than ideal way will likely contain information that is useful.
3. Ask questions to clarify.
Actively listen and ask questions. Be sure you understand the feedback you are receiving. It is often helpful to ask for specific examples that illustrate what your reviewer is trying to say.
4. Assess your own performance.
Take time to reflect honestly on your writing. Interpret the feedback you have received. Is what they said true? Try to take your emotions out of the equation and view your work with fresh eyes—this may mean setting aside the piece for a few days. Don’t forget to go back to it!
5. Evaluate feedback.
Take some time to consider the feedback from their perspective. Reopen the discussion if you need to. Ask other sources for their feedback.
In the end, feedback is just feedback. Just because you ask for advice, doesn't mean you have to take it. Ultimately it is your story and any changes you make have to be your decision. Be respectful and thank them for their time no matter how helpful (or unhelpful) you find the experience.
What was the most valuable piece of feedback you’ve ever received regarding your writing? A quick tip that made a difference?