Getting Feedback and How to Use It

When a writer asks “How do I find people who will read my stuff and give me feedback?” they usually mean a few different things. In some cases, it’s that they’re having trouble finding other writers who will give objective, intelligent, and actionable commentary. Other times, it means that they know feedback is usually approached as a give-and-take relationship amongst writers, and they’re worried about their, or the other writer’s, ability to commit. Mostly, though, they’re acknowledging one of the core fears every writer harbors to some degree or another – is my writing good enough for someone other than me (or my loved ones) to want to read it?

Before seeking feedback, most, if not all, writers go through a period of self editing. Working with your own prose usually takes two routes: either you don’t see any of your mistakes because you know what you meant to say, or, you see every potential mistake and grow to question how many there are, how big a deal they will be to fix, and if the story is even worth it.

Yes, the story is worth it. No, it’s not as bad as you think it is. Yes, you really did say purple when you meant to say elephant and that’s okay even if someone else read it before you fixed it.

Writers who are looking for feedback should seek it from more than one source. It’s important to have a selection of comments to clearly see what is a common critique versus what might be someone’s individual opinion, but it can also be useful to have samples of different calibers of feedback. Three primary types would be:

  1. Fellow creatives who are on the same skill and ability level as you
    • Alternatively, this could be a beta reader who is familiar with your genre
  2. Fellow creatives who are slightly more experienced, seasoned, and tested than you
    • Ideally they will have their work available to the public
  3. A professional who you pay money in exchange for their specialized feedback
    • More commonly known as an editor

Knowing the types of feedback you need will not help you find those people, sadly. I suggest checking out author events at your local library – specifically multi-author events – because they are typically full of writers who are just as eager as you are for quality feedback. Meetup.com can be helpful to find local author groups who already meet regularly. NaNoWriMo events are another great place to discover writers of every stripe, and you’re sure to find someone else who is on a similar writing level as you. And when you’re ready to start looking for an editor, be sure to check out our post about choosing one before you spend your money.

Just like no two writers could pen the same story, no two people read the exact same story. Hearing what a fellow writer thought of your work can be simultaneously empowering (often they’ll point out things that they wish they had thought of) and provoking (the kind of “if it was me, I would do this”). Pay special attention to the empowering and encouraging parts, because if a fellow creative found something they liked chances are a reader will, too.

Regardless of who is offering feedback, if their criticisms resonate with you in a way that will help make your story better – not in a way that gives in to the fear your writing may not be good – then it is very much worth listening to the critique. That does not necessarily equal listening to any suggestions for change that were offered with it. Chances are, if someone is pointing out something ‘wrong’ with your story, it’s something you suspected might be wrong already. But you’re the only person writing it, so however you change things, it needs to be your decision and not someone else’s. Don’t make alterations blindly, make them deliberately, after giving them careful thought and consideration. Remember, too many cooks can spoil the soup.

Do you have an active feedback group? What do you offer them in exchange? Have you ever been surprised by someone’s feedback, and if so was it in a good way? When you offer critiques of someone else’s work, what do you focus on? The comments are always open.

 

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