Feedback is one of the most useful things in the universe. In fact, it’s one of the things that makes a living organism, well, living. As a writer, it’s one of the key ingredients to being successful, whether you’re article writing, blogging, or working on your umpteenth book. It’s how we understand what’s working, what isn’t, and what’s holding us back. But getting the kind of feedback that will really move us forward isn’t always easy. Here are a few tips that will help you both find the feedback you need and get the most out of it.
Know what kind of feedback you’d like—and ask for it.
What kind of feedback you need will really depend on what stage your text is at and what its key elements are. Just starting out with a concept and want to know if it’s even remotely interesting to anyone but you? Or perhaps you’ve worked and reworked your book with fifteen revisions and you just need a beta reader. Or maybe you’re somewhere in-between—your copy is still pretty rough, but you’ve been through it a few times and the text is (you’re hoping) getting pretty close to how it’ll appear in the final edit. Or maybe you just want someone to check the copy and look for errors. As far as the elements are concerned, if you’re writing a novel you might want to know if the characters are believable and consistent or if there are holes in the plot. If you’re writing non-fiction, are the arguments believable? How’s the flow from topic to topic? Whatever the case, knowing what kind of feedback you want and letting your reviewer know will really help them focus in on what’s important for you.
Make sure your work is feedback-ready.
While feedback can be useful in just about any stage of writing—from concept to final draft—that doesn’t mean you should just slam something out and send it off. Take the time to look things over, catch typos and awkward phrasing, and basically just make sure your work looks presentable. Also, the more you catch the obvious errors, the more time your reviewer can spend on the bigger issues that you’re likely to really need feedback on.
Don’t just go for the positive reviews.
Obviously, we all want someone to say that our work is awesome, but the reality is that the hard-to-hear feedback is often the most valuable. We need to know where our text isn’t holding up or where the reader’s losing interest. Of course, it’s helpful if the feedback comes in a form that’s at least mildly digestible, but even if it isn’t, it’s worth bucking up and trying to get where the reader believes our text is falling short.
Stop your first reaction.
Ok, you’ve asked for the hard feedback and your reviewer delivered. Or maybe you just asked for a general impression and what came back was not what you were expecting. What do you do? Well, first breathe. Really. Maybe a couple of times. See if you can rein in any thoughts or feelings that want to bat away the critique you’re receiving. Even if the feedback totally misses the mark, it’s important to at least give it consideration, and that will take a clear mind.
Wait before you respond, then respond graciously.
Sort of on the same lines of stopping your first reaction, waiting before you respond to your reviewer will also help you come at things from a clearer perspective—especially if their feedback was challenging to take in. And regardless of what critique they’ve given you, always keep in mind that they didn’t have to look over your work—they’re doing you a favor. So be kind and gracious and be sure to thank them. It’s important—even if you never use them again.
Find readers who give you the kind of criticism you need—who will critique in the way you’re looking for.
Great critique givers are like good friends: hard to find, yet worth more than gold. Once you find them, you’ll never want to let them go. Maybe they’re people in your line of work or maybe they’re writers themselves. Or maybe they’re just people who love to read and are really good at giving feedback. Whatever the case, it’ll be well worth your while to seek these kinds of people out, and that means getting your work out there. The easiest way to start is by finding other writers, perhaps finding a local writer’s meetup (which can be beneficial in many, many ways) or joining an online group such as Scribophile. Or, if you’re really interested in networking, attending one of the many, many writing conferences out there and hobnobbing with the amazing mix of writers, editors, and publishers who attend.
This post is contributed as a Guest post by Bonnie Skott.
Bonnie Skott is a creative writer who left her full-time job at a publishing company to pursue her freelance carrier. Currently, she helps a photography software company Skylum to manage their blog. She really likes planting, so if you want to chat about that or ask any questions, feel free to drop her a message!