A while back, the lovely Sarah posted this GREAT post on taking feedback. It was so great that I’ve been waiting and waiting and WAITING for someone *cough*SARAH*cough* to follow up and give us a post on GIVING feedback. Except now it’s my turn to post…and I’m stealing it. (Or tag-teaming it. Whatever).
As we develop as writers, it’s normal that we seek out feedback from others. No, not even normal. REQUIRED. You should not be the only person who looks at your work before you send it off to agents or editors or ESPECIALLY if you decided to go the route of self-publishing. I don’t care if you’re freaking Harper Lee–you need other eyes on your work. You need to find people you trust and build yourself a little tribe of critique partners and beta readers. Everyone does this a different way–some people already have friends who write (Sarah and I have been friends since age 10!), or make friends with other writers on Twitter (that’s how Serena & I met!) or through writing conferences or other events. Some people decide that grad school is the way to go–I tried that, too, and met some fabulous writers that way. They don’t write YA (or even long-form fiction!) or whatever category/genre you’re writing — but their feedback has been invaluable. Every single person has made me a better writer.
These relationships are a two-way street. At some point, you can’t just take feedback. You’re going to have to give feedback. Someone is going to trust you to take their book-baby (or short story-baby) and you’re going to have to read it and make notes and tell them what’s working for you — and what isn’t. This is kind of a terrifying thing, at first. How do you know you’re giving good feedback? Here’s a quick-and-dirty guide to giving the kind of feedback you’d want to receive:
1. Be critical, but constructive. This is key. Give the type of feedback you want to receive. You wouldn’t like it if someone left you notes that only said “LOL THIS SUCKS JUST STOP BYE.” I KNOW none of you would do that, it’s an extreme example. But still — in the workshops I’ve participated in, there’s been a rule to list at least 3 things that are working for you, and 3 things that aren’t. You can–and probably should–include more, if it’s possible. I tend to give my comments with a healthy dose of fangirl–and I love it when I get comments like that on my own work.
2. Respect the author’s voice/style/genre. When I was in my school, I was exposed to many different forms, styles, genres, and voices. A lot of things I read weren’t my cup of tea–and I know for a fact that my work was the only YA that some of my classmates had read in 20 years. That’s okay. Even if you wouldn’t normally read or write in a given way or category, you can still give constructive comments on a technical level. I learned so much from getting an outsider’s perspective to what I was writing, and I hoped that they benefited from what I had to say.
3. Remember, you’re limited to what’s on the page in front of you. In a lot of cases, you might only get a chapter here or there, or a few pages of a short story. You can’t fix what you don’t have, so don’t try to. Focus on the material you do have, and give comments based on that–and not on what you *think* is coming next. (Unless, of course, you’re super-tight CP’s and you know every single nuance of their story.)
4. Ask questions — don’t prescribe solutions. You are not writing this story.
I repeat: You are not writing this story.
It’s okay–and by all means, necessary–to tell the author when something isn’t working. It’s okay to ask questions about things. You can say, “Hey, dollface. While I really love the idea behind the cult of killer mermaids, is there a way to let us connect with them more, person-to-monster?” but you CAN’T say, “Your idea is okay and all, but it would TOTALLY be cooler if instead of mermaids they were actually technicolor narwhals.” Not your book. Not your call.
5. If you don’t learn something from critiquing other’s work, you’re doing it wrong. I learn something from every single piece I critique. Every time I sit down and think, how can I help make this stronger?I’m actually making myself a better writer. It’s really difficult to see problems in our own work, so when we have the chance to step beyond ourselves and help others? We learn to identify problems. We learn to see what works for readers and what doesn’t. And we can take all of that and apply it to our own writing.
Now on to the fun stuff! Because I love critiquing, I’m giving away a 25-page critique to a fellow writer! To enter, please leave a comment & use the rafflecopter widget below!