Should Feedback be both supportive and critical?

CommuterLit editor & publisher

I’ve taken enough creative writing workshops and courses to know that each seems to have a slightly different take on giving and receiving feedback, some of which I found effective for me and some of which I did not.

One workshop I attended believed participants should only say what they love about fellow participants’ work. No criticism — no matter how constructive or diplomatically presented — would be included in comments. The idea was to bolster and support new writers who may not yet be comfortable sharing their work with others. I liked this approach — I mean, who doesn’t like to be told how much people love their work? — but ultimately I was frustrated by it. In order to progress to the next level in my writing, I found I must hear not only what I did well, but what I need to improve.

But too much criticism badly given can get under the skin and undermine the self-confidence of any writer, no matter how established or experienced. I have watched wonderful writers in these workshops with tight smiles on their faces become defensive and stop listening, because the critique was too general in nature or was so clearly a personal attack. But where does that leave workshop participants? How do you get the most out of a workshop?

I find the key to giving good feedback is not sugar-coating your opinion, but always to 1. try to react analytically to the text as a piece of creative writing, not to the content or writer’s personality; 2. refer to the work not the writer when offering your critique; and 3. be as specific as possible in your suggestions and comments.

I find the key to receiving feedback is to shut up (no matter how badly you want to explain yourself and your work) and just listen.