How to Give and Receive Constructive Criticism
Part of writing is asking for feedback. At some point you have to let go of the precious baby and let someone take a look at it. Pick someone you trust but also someone who will challenge you to do better.
There are few things more intimidating than opening an email or being handed a stack of edits for your baby. How do you make headway on the intimidating task?
If you’re receiving constructive criticism in person, sit silently and listen. During my undergrad creative writing classes, I literally had to sit on my hands and be cut off if I opened my mouth because I wanted to explain my reasoning rather than listening.
If you’re receiving constructive criticism via email or on paper, read everything the editor says. Personally, I like to read with a pen in my hand to make snarky comments back and answer the questions.
When you’ve finished step one, sit back for at least a minute but no longer than a day and let it all soak in.
2. Small Changes
If you received feedback via email, be sure to save the edits by renaming the document.
Then begin with the easy fixes. If you’re editing in a Word document with comments, it cleans it up the document a lot faster as you delete comments. It lets you feel like you’ve accomplished something (because you have) while giving you time to ponder the bigger changes.
3. Large Changes
Roll up your sleeves and dive in. Take the dessert first—the points you’ve got revision ideas; tweaking and suggestions you’re comfortable with—then trudge through the harder ones.
Note: You don’t have to take every suggestion. You do have to seriously consider each one.
I know, I know, this is a writing blog. Chances are, at some point in your writing career another writer will ask for your opinion. Just bookmark this post and come back to it when that happens. As Monk always says, “You’ll thank me later.”
The writer has just shared with you her baby. You know how that goes. Comment on things you like just as often as you comment on things you don’t. It’s not super helpful for that particular story but it’s huge for her self-esteem.
2. Ask Questions
You don’t have to offer the solution. In fact, the piece will be better if the writer stumbles across the solution on his own. Be willing to say, “I don’t know how to fix this but it doesn’t work.” Say, “Is this really the word you want here?” Allow the writer to see inside the head of the reader.
3. Don’t copyedit
This is a hard one for me because looking for misplaced commas is my default. I enjoy it more than anyone ever should. Copyediting is vital to the revision process but your writer will be less than thrilled if you only point out grammatical errors. Trust me.
Note: Reread your feedback before sending it. Is that really the nicest way to phrase that criticism?
First, post three paragraphs from your current baby. The three you’re most unsure about is probably the best idea since you’re getting free feedback but really any three will do.
Second, be an editor giving constructive criticism to other writers.