What’s The Best Way To Give Feedback?

CommuterLit Editor & Publisher

I WAS recently at a talk about building community through writing, where the speaker advocated for a positive (and only positive) feedback approach when evaluating someone’s writing. Her argument was that reinforcement led to more confidence, more writing practice and eventually better writing. And she does have a point — as anyone of us who have left a writers’ group or an encounter with an editor deflated and unable to write for days can attest.

However, I cannot entirely square her approach to critiquing with the rather harsh reality of the publishing industry, where the majority of writers encounter indifferent and abrupt rejection again and again and again. Even self-published authors have to face a crowded market and often less than stellar sales.

Do we do new writers a disservice by never telling them what they could do better? I don’t mean being overly harsh and abusive. And I don’t mean we don’t lead with telling them what they did well. Of course, we do. But to never discuss what can be improved? Not every writer wishes to be published, but for those who do, what’s the best way to prepare them to survive almost continual rejection and still believe in themselves?

What do you think? Write and tell me at admin-at-commuterlit-dot-com.

  1. Writers wanting feedback could ask for the kind of feedback that they want. If they only want to hear the positive points, then say so.
    For writers like myself I like to hear what’s working – for that reinforcement and increased confidence. Then I would like some positive suggestions about things that could be developed, or improved, in the opinion of the person making the comments. Then a concluding comment on what is working generally. So a ‘feedback sandwich’. I also like to hear why the comments are being made eg these words could be cut to make the writing tighter and easier to read. If feedback can be given using positive language that is also helpful, and reinforcing, whether the content is positive or developmental.

  2. I agree with you, Nancy. I join a writing group for two main reasons: to keep me on track with my writing and to gain valuable feedback for revising the pieces I share. The bonus is being exposed to a wide range of topics, styles, and writing prowess from other group members.
    There are, of course, community writing groups that exist mainly to encourage writing and provide a social occasion. Then positive feedback or at least encouragement take precedence. So it depends on the group.

  3. I think most beginning writers need only basic basic feedback and the injunction to continue to collect rejections. That is, no fancy shamancy commentary just straight to the point criticism.

  4. I think if you want only positive feedback you should stick to your family and friends. To me, the point of writing is to communicate with a broader world and in order to get better at it you need to know what’s working and what isn’t for a wide range of people. And as you grow your writing world you will learn what advice to ignore and what to treasure.

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