Writing Advice and Feedback #4

How to get or give good feedback

I have gotten absolutely horrendous feedback on my work. Often it’s the format rather than the form. My goal in today’s post is to give a few “what not to do when giving feedback” and also give some tips on how to get good feedback. Tips I probably could have used years and years ago.

Dos and Do nots

Everyone gets bad feedback. Everyone needs time to process feedback. However, some feedback is worse than others.
Do not give a 1* review thinking you are somehow giving helpful, actionable feedback. Yes, I received a feedback on an early work of mine that was essentially a 1-star review. She didn’t like it. Okay, that’s where she should have stopped. There was nothing helpful in her comments. The rest was just degrading. 

My mistakes as a writer seeking feedback here were that I didn’t have readers yet. I was looking for anyone to give me some feedback. When one of my readers said her friend wanted to read it, I jumped at the chance for another reader. 

Be honest and be positive. These were going to be two different points, but thanks to Darren Groth, they are linked as a single tip for me. I really feel badly for people who think honesty is brutal. Honesty is not brutal. I once received a critique on my query package from another writer. Every single sentence had a negative comment. By the way, this query package had over twenty other writers go through it already. She had the polished and final package. The most “positive” comment she gave was that she also liked one of my comps. If there was a single helpful thing in that deluge of negativity, I couldn’t find it. I knew enough to throw that entire critique away after reading through it, giving it a week, and reading through it again.
Give feedback in a way that the writer will be able to access. Before even agreeing to read and give feedback or accept feedback, you should have an agreed upon way in which feedback will be given. This honestly has been how I’ve always done feedback and how most people discussing feedback will approach it. But sometimes it still needs to be reiterated. This stems from two situations I’ve been in.
One in which there was an agreed way in which feedback was to be given. This person broke the rules of the group and unfortunately because the feedback itself broke another of my tips, it was disheartening in the least.
Another person insisted on calling me instead of writing anything down. She proceeded to yell at me for five minutes when she called me without much notice and then hung up on me because she “had another phone call she had to take.” I literally could not process her feedback at all. It was a waste of both of our times, and also extremely hurtful for me. 
Give feedback at the level of reader and friendship you have.

I had one reader, a new beta reader, who gave me homework, an entire craft book to read in order to receive her feedback because she frames all her writing feedback for particular advice from that book. I’m all for reading craft books. But requiring a writer to read a specific one to get your feedback means you are assessing above what your reading relationship is meant to be. Especially if you are a new beta reader for them. Work your way up to CP before assigning homework. 

I had another reader who left comments all the way through that were “reaction comments.” To be fair, reaction comments are awesome and often super helpful. However, if your reactions are negative and slightly nasty, maybe in a tone that you talk to your very good friends in, and you aren’t reading for a very good friend or someone you have even read for before, maybe tone down your reaction comments or try to keep them framed positively. (I did ask someone else to read through those comments to make sure I wasn’t being too sensitive and she said wouldn’t accept comments like that from her CPs and BFFs let alone someone she doesn’t have an established relationship with.)

Bad Feedback Advice

Related, some writers will tell you that you “have to learn” to take feedback like what I’ve outlined above. No, you don’t! You only need to learn to throw it out and never discuss your writing with that person again. 

I have been told as an ND person my entire life that I need to grow thicker skin. You know what? That’s not how my brain works no matter how much others want to belittle and bully me and just have me take it. I’m not their punching bag. Everyone has a different line for what is not approrpriate. But “oversensitive” has long been applied in a derogatory way to ND people, and I am who I am. So, those who feel like writers are egotistical snowflakes who can’t take criticism? Maybe you are just being mean and not actually being critical in a manner that is remotely helpful and actionable. Yes, there are writers who are ovelry precious about their work. But make sure that’s what’s actually going on.

All of the above examples I showed to people who have thicker skin than I and they all agreed those were way over any sort of line of acceptable feedback to give or receive. 

The through-line you might have caught above is that I threw away the entire set of feedback when someone gave me feedback in the form of a 1* review, a way that was completely inaccessible to me, 100% negative, or just inappropriate. Because they went so far into a place that I couldn’t pick out even a single helpful or actionable item from it. And I never will be. There might have been something helpful embedded in all those tangled thorns, but I don’t need to bloody myself trying to get it. 
You and I can both get constructive feedback, positive and honest feedback, that is useful.

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