How to Give and Take Better Writing Feedback

by Sue Weems | 40 comments

Free Book Planning Course! Sign up for our 3-part book planning course and make your book writing easy. It expires soon, though, so don’t wait. Sign up here before the deadline!

A little over ten years ago, I had almost a decade of English teaching experience, a couple years paid freelance writing work, several creative writing university courses under my belt, and a few small publications in poetry and nonfiction. A friend’s mom, Mae,* had written a query letter for her second novel. She asked me to read it and give her some writing feedback. What could go wrong?

How to Give and Take Better Writing Feedback

When Mae asked, I had not attempted to write an entire novel or a query letter. I had read thousands of novels and a few letters, but I had not studied the structure and requirements of each. I assumed writing was writing. Surely with a degree in English and a little experience, I was qualified to give good feedback?

Nope. Not even close.

When I Realized I Was Wrong

I didn’t know it until a few years later when I wrote two terrible novels and began researching how to write an effective query letter. I learned that both novel writing and query letters require a specific type of writing skill. One I had not mastered yet. I’m so sorry, Mae.

Yes, my grammar and sentence skills would serve me well, but great grammar does not inherently result in a great story. It enhances a story. It clarifies a query letter, but alone? It’s just grammar.

I read her letter, corrected a few grammar issues and then made several suggestions I hope she didn’t take. *hanging my head in shame*

Mae was so kind. She didn’t tell me I was a raving idiot who didn’t know what I was talking about. She had every right to, but she could probably tell I was full of myself instead of knowing what the form required.

What can we learn from my feedback gaffe? (Please tell me there is much to learn so my shame is not in vain.) Two lessons come to mind.

All Writing Is Not the Same

This is a terrible thing to realize. I can write a hundred-page-long literary analysis paper without blinking an eye, but I feel like a blithering idiot when I am trying to straighten out a plotline in fiction. It means I have to admit that I need to become the student again and again as I master different forms. I have to subject myself to the frustration of failure while I practice.

I have friends who are technical writers by day, pounding out thousands of words, but lament their lack of progress on the novel at night. “I’m a full-time writer!” they say. “This shouldn’t be so hard!”

Humility is the best place to begin. There is an old proverb that says, “You cannot learn if your mind (or ego) is already full.” When I thought I knew it all, I was actually limiting myself. When I finally admitted I didn’t have a clue how to write a novel or query, it led me to research. Research, practice, and feedback made me a stronger writer.

Four Things I Learned From Failing Mae

Be wise like Mae (not like me). Before you give or receive writing feedback, keep these four things in mind:

1. Know your genre and audience. 

I failed Mae because I didn’t understand her genre or audience. What does a reader or editor in your genre expect?

2. Know your purpose. 

If you know why you are writing, it makes the critiques easier to accept, and it can help you sift through the feedback for the most helpful bits.

3. Be specific about what you need. 

If you are asking someone to read your work for the purpose of giving constructive feedback, ask for what you need. If Mae had asked me to check for comma usage, I might have been her hero (or not—I probably would have given the unhelpful feedback anyway—alas).

4. Smile and receive all feedback, but evaluate it against industry standards. 

Every time I teach dialogue, I leave time for the inevitable argument over “said.” Students want to use all the words: muttered, squealed, yelled, exclaimed, replied, and so on (just like me when I began).

I get to tell them another embarrassing story.  One time an editor marked my manuscript with “default to said—too many tags—looks amateur.” Ouch!

Instead of arguing with her, I looked it up. One search online confirmed the industry standards for my genre, and I began choosing my tags more carefully.

Give and Take Some Feedback This Week

Hopefully these tips will help you as you give and receive feedback. If you’ve been hiding your work in files and journals to avoid people like me, I understand (I hid my work once too).

But I also hope you’ll risk a little this week. Share your writing with someone who will cheer you on. If you are really brave, ask for some constructive feedback.

*Mae's name has been changed despite her innocence.

Do you have any tips for how to give good writing feedback? Let us know in the comments.


Today, you have two options.

  1. Take fifteen minutes to write a short scene using the phrase, “But that’s not how you do it!” (Do I need to add my teacherly warning to the freshmen boys? Keep it clean enough to read to the principal and your mother. HA!)
  2. Or, choose an excerpt from a work in progress.

Now, share your writing in the comments and ask for some specific writing feedback. Not sure what to ask? Here are some ideas:

“What tone is this scene setting?”
“How vivid is my character?”
“Am I using commas correctly here?”
“Where did you have to reread for clarity?”

Leave feedback for your fellow writers so we can all practice giving and receiving feedback. And one more thing: if you give someone writing feedback in the comments, be gentle and highlight the positives, too.

Free Book Planning Course! Sign up for our 3-part book planning course and make your book writing easy. It expires soon, though, so don’t wait. Sign up here before the deadline!

Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.


  1. Julie Mayerson Brown

    I learned this hard way in a critique group. Sometimes it’s worth it to get professional criticism. Writing advice is like anything else – you get what you pay for.

    • Christine

      While I agree with the “get a pro” part, I’ve given a lot of free critique that fellow writers have appreciated. My theory is: when one writer learns the craft better, we all benefit, so let’s help each other. I don’t usually work on a whole novel, though, just try to give a few clear pointers for certain flaws that need to be fixed for a better story. I find “showing AND telling” a common error.

      However, you expect pros to be trained and impartial so you put more weight in their advice. A friend or fellow writer may tell you exactly the same thing, but you might tell yourself she’s nit-picking or it’s just not her style. And a good friend is apt to understand just what you mean even though you haven’t said it clearly, so they won’t raise a red flag where there should be one.

    • Davidh Digman

      I agree with Christine.

      I host a monthly workshop specialising in speculative fiction. We have been very choosy about who gets to join (and who gets to remain). We expect certain standards in all critiquing.

      But when one of my long-form works-in-progress approaches the point of being ready for submission, I will certainly obtain a professional appraisal. I suspect that, having obtained good advice from carefully chosen colleagues, the work of the appraiser will be lessened.

    • Dey

      Definitely, before you publish get a pro. But a good critique group is worth it’s collective weight in gold. It’s finding one that’s the challenge though.

    • Davidh Digman

      One way of doing that is, when you find a writing colleague or two you can trust, pair up with he or she. Run one-on-one workshops from your home. In our case, there was a seed group of three of us who all studied together in college.

      Then as each one of you finds other good workshoppers, invite them to join you.

      The group I am currently in started life in a local speculative fiction bookshop. When that bookshop went out of business, we started to hold our monthly meetings in my house. There are five of us now and we have gotten into each others’ workshopping groove. We understand each other and recognise the differences in what each one of us brings to the table.

      Sometimes public libraries or bookshops are willing to offer space to workshops. Sometimes they’ll do so for free, or for some nominal charge. Free is good, but if it is a for-profit, be decent enough to give them some custom!

      I have a fair number of books on my bookshelf I bought from that bookshop.

    • Sue

      Feel your pain! I think we all learn it the hard way sooner or later. When I work with my students, I tell them to guard against a “know-it-all” or “fix-it-all” attitude (I usually outlaw the word “should” in early workshops). I wonder if it is because it is easier to explain how we would do it instead of asking thoughtful questions that would help the writer clarify it for himself. I have grown so much from the thoughtful comments of writing groups– sometimes my craft gets stronger, and sometimes my skin gets thicker! HA!

      I agree though, there is definitely a time to pay for pro help, although even then, it is worth knowing how to engage the feedback you’ve paid for. Thanks so much for commenting.

  2. Alyssa

    What are your impressions of the emotion and characterization of this scene?
    I put the parts that are meant to be in italics between forward slashes for lack of any way to actually use italics.

    Shikoba crept through Nilima cavern, a flashlight lighting the few feet around him in the otherwise pitch black. If he feared what might be lurking in the dark, it did not show on what little of his face could be seen. What the boy was doing so deep in the cavern alone, no one knew. Especially not his mother.

    She was probably worried about him, Shikoba thought suddenly. A worry which would quickly turn furious once he returned safely home. If he returned safely home. He shuddered and pushed away the thought, creeping onwards.

    With his free hand, Shikoba grasped the key on a string around his neck.

    /It must be something grand,/ he thought. A thought he had been repeating as he crept through the dank, dark cavern. /Alone,/ brushed the edges of his mind. /Alone,/ it echoed, but he shoved it away uneasily.

    For hours he shuffled through the dark, searching fruitlessly.

    /What if nothing is there? What if he lied?/ Shikoba wondered. The possibility of it nearly made him furious. He had sneaked off after lunch during his mother’s afternoon nap and it was surely past midnight by now.

    If there was nothing… Well, there was nothing he could do about it but suffer the punishment for sneaking off and worrying his mother. It’s not like he could return the key to its original owner. And anyway, he wouldn’t want to even if he could. It was too precious.

    Just as his hope was waning and he had resigned himself to turning back if he found nothing in three minutes, Shikoba’s light twinkled off a wall looming ahead. Stopping, he aimed his flashlight higher and caught the rectangular shape of a doorframe. Shikoba grinned, this must be what he came for.

    Eagerly he started toward it, abandoning his cautious creeping gate from before. If he tripped now, it would have been worth investigating that door.

    /This is it, this is it, this is why he sent me!/ Shikoba sang in his mind, breaking into a jog halfway to the door from where he stood.

    • Dey

      Hi Alyssa,

      The answer to your question is, no, this doesn’t show much in the way of emotion or characterization.

      Here’s the thing, emotion comes out of circumstances and there isn’t much in the way of THIS situation that is emotionally evocative. Boy in a cave finds a door.he was looking for. I’m curious what emotions you were going for?

      So for example if you want to heighten the emotion sit him down for a second to rest AND DECIDE (see characterization below) whether or not to keep going, using the circumstances that 1) it’s been hours and nothing (frustration and foolishness and Oh yeah, that asswhooping that’s his just desserts) and 2) the flashlight flickers and he still needs it to get back

      And characterization shows up in choices made under pressure. His choice to come isn’t on display here; it’s already been made. And we’re not privy (in this snippet) to why it might have been a difficult choice — which it isn’t my impression that it was.

      Hope this helps,

    • Alyssa

      Thank you. That helps a lot!

    • Sue

      Bonus points for bravery in posting a work-in-progress. I’m rooting for this little treasure-hunter, although I’m wondering why he isn’t more frightened after hours of searching in the dark. I liked where he clutched the key like he was drawing resolve.
      His thoughts might grow more frantic as he looks. As Dey mentioned, more conflict would show the character and heighten the emotion– animals, other people or presence, getting lost, hunger, or any number of things would complicate his journey and force him to choose his path. Thanks for sharing and good luck!

    • Sheila B

      I like that Sue includes what she likes, what works in her feedback

    • Davidh Digman

      Firstly, please let me agree with Sue. Wonderful of you to post something from your work-in-progress.

      I am with your character. Overall, I feel you are showing us a clear enough image of Shikoba, arousing empathy and care. Your character, tension and sense of place is working well, but did have one minor issue that is easily rectified:

      “If he feared what might be lurking in the dark, it did not show on what little of his face could be seen.”

      The problem I see is with: “…it did not show on what little of his face could be seen.”

      This indicates that he is in fact being seen, but is that your intention?

      From the overall feel of the piece, I sense not.

      This is an easy-to-make mistake that I make all too often, but we do need to think through our descriptions!

      Hopefully, I won’t have the same problem with the excerpt I’m going to post here once I have been through to see whether anyone else needs commentary.

      Cheers, and keep it up!

    • Sheila B

      I had the same “bump” with him being seen.

    • Alyssa

      I don’t think that when I initially wrote that I did intend to imply he was being seen, but now, with a better sense of where the story is going and what he is actually looking for, I can say yes. This implication that he isn’t alone in Nilima cavern is both good and important.

  3. Randi Anderson

    “When I thought I knew it all, I was actually limiting myself. When I finally admitted I didn’t have a clue how to write a novel or query, it led me to research. Research, practice, and feedback made me a stronger writer.”

    The most important point in a nutshell, as far as I’m concerned. *hangs head in shame* This has been my year for learning this exact lesson.

    On an unrelated note, I think we are kindred spirits regarding your love for parenthetical remarks. 😉 I can’t believe I haven’t managed to use one yet in this comment!

    (Wait, maybe that was one?)

    • Sue

      Hi Randi!
      I seem to be learning this lesson over and over. There is so much to learn, and just when I seem to get a handle on something, I realize there is more to it. It’s not a bad position to be in, just frustrating sometimes. The main thing is we keep moving forward! (Always glad to meet another parenthetical enthusiast.) Thanks for reading.

  4. Ariel Benjamin

    “Humility is the best place to begin.”
    Excellent. I definitely relate, and actually learned to LOVE all the differences in writing that exist. It means there’s always more to explore in an art I love so much 🙂 One of the things that gets me is people assuming you know how to do a certain type of writing when anything suggestive of writing is in your job title. I faced somewhat of an identity crisis when I, a lover of creative writing, didn’t necessarily enjoy or nail copywriting at the start. Was equally as weird for me when I found I got real joy from technical writing—something I, a lover of creative writing, always assumed was boring . . . funny how that works.

    • Sue

      Love your attitude– I’ve been slowly learning copywriting this year, and it hasn’t been pretty. I think you nailed the reason why most people would like to write something, but so few actually finish their work. It’s because they expect to be good or enjoy the entire process from the get go, instead of realizing it is a process that can surprise us every step of the way. Appreciate you reading and commenting.

  5. Beth Schmelzer

    Please let know if the characters’ voices are authentic and where you had to reread for clarity. Authenticity and clarity are important to my writing.

    “But that’s not how you do it!”

    Every holiday dinner, we ask each grownup to share a favorite dish. My son and daughter don’t take the time to prepare their specialties at home. Sometimes they even ask me if I have the staple ingredients such as flour, salt and pepper or spices. I take a deep breath and don’t say “But that’s not how you do it!”

    I get out the pans needed for their dishes, trying to anticipate how much time is needed so the entire meal will be on the table together. Extra spoons come out to the drawers for serving. Then we start the preparation together.

    My daughter brings Grandma’s Creamed Spinach recipe and the boxes of frozen spinach. (I make mine with fresh greens.) She knows to use the large pot to cook the spinach first, then she drains it in a colander I provide. The sauce comes next.

    Meanwhile my sister waltzes into my kitchen and hands me a grocery store wrapped bouquet of dyed mums and yellow roses. After thanking her, I try to find a vase tall enough to hold those expensive nuisances. (We already had a nice holiday floral arrangement ordered by my son-in-law. It is sitting prettily in the center of the perfectly set table.)

    My children know “But that’s not how you do it!” as I have instructed them not to bring a bouquet to a busy hostess unless it is complete or you are planning to arrange it artfully at the house.

    Meanwhile, it is time to help daughter make the cream sauce for the spinach. The greens are cooling in the sink and someone wants to wash their hands. (Don’t they know to use the utility or bathroom sink while we are getting dinner ready?) I whip the colander out of the sink and put it on the cutting board where the onions are sitting ready to be minced. Where is my daughter?

    Of course, the kids of all ages have started a card game in the living room.

    I chop the onions, start the olive oil and butter to heat up in the large pot after drying out the spinach water,

    “No! Grandma’s recipe only uses butter, not olive oil!” Carol yells in my ear as she places her card hand face down on the wet counter where the spinach is dripping.

    “Okay, it’s your specialty.”

    “Mom, don’t you have regular flour, not this Wondra? I know you use it for the turkey gravy, but I need the kind Grandma used for this recipe,” my petulant girl reminds me.

    I watch her add the onions, cooking them until they are almost translucent. Now I know she doesn’t need my help any more. I did notice she never properly drained the spinach pushing out the cooking water and capturing it in another receptacle as I would.

    Lastly, I watch her add the flour and the milk and then the main ingredient. The combination is pasty and full of liquid. Even though I know “But that’s not how you do it,” I hold my tongue. It is her specialty, but whenever the whole family is together, there are distractions for all of us.

    My son has just started to make the appetizer. “Mom, where is the big bowl to mix the guacamole?” My tongue hurts from all the pressure from my teeth, holding back the words on the tip—my brief advice is kept inside.

    The words “But that’s not how you do it” will have to wait for another day.

  6. Dey

    I’m of mixed emotions and thoughts on this.

    “Mae was so kind. She didn’t tell me I was a raving idiot who didn’t know what I was talking about.”

    Should she have told you? Critiqued your critique as it were.

    See I mean it when I say, I’m of mixed reactions to this.

    I have deleted excellent (imho) feedback I’ve given to a writer who decided he wanted to “defend” his work to me. It pissed me the heck off to have the writer respond to me that he “knew” all the stuff I was telling him and that it didn’t really apply because (even though he had posted in a forum for feedback) it was just zero draft. To which I say bs; if he “knew” then he’d have done it.

    On the other hand.

    I have also received so much crappy advice. For example: I was told that the “Tone” of my story was off because two entirely different characters had two entirely different voices. Oh the horror! Seriously, I wanted to ask the critiquer what the heck? But how do you do that, tell someone they wasted their time and yours when they were doing you a courtesy?

    *best paragraph deleted to be used elsewhere for better purpose*

    Thanks for reading my vent.

    • Sue

      I hear you, Dey. I meant that I think Mae handled it well and used what was useful and discarded the rest (I tend to use a bit of hyperbole– sorry if it didn’t come through clearly). I’ve been on the receiving end of those “defenses” as well. I wonder if they are just a coping mechanism because it is hard to hear criticism.
      I don’t know the answer. I do know that both giving and sifting through received feedback has made me a better writer because it forces me to know why I am discarding some advice. I don’t think it is always wasted time. Readers do the same thing in misreading work sometimes, so it is valuable to hear how others interpret what we write.
      I loved your *best paragraph deleted*… I hope I’ll run across it one day! Thanks for chiming in. I know many writers will resonate with your viewpoint here.

    • drjeane

      Dey, I recently had the experience of reviewing and editing a book. One piece of advice I gave, based on my experience with the content (it was non-fiction), turned out to be incorrect. I”m so glad the authors dug a bit deeper and asked me to do the same before they incorporated my advice into their book. None of us are infallible. It is so important to enter into dialog over any advice that seems not to be on target. All parties can then learn from the experience.

  7. Davidh Digman

    The following is the latest portion of one of my current works-in-progress. This is from Chapter 7 and shows a young character having to kill or be killed for the first time.

    I am particularly interested in whether I have succeeded in showing the conflict her character feels.


    The smaller deerpig bowed its head, cantering left then right. The sultry, alien air shimmered as the beast’s sonar blast struck its larger companion. The loser shuddered and struggled to get up, ribs protruding from its breast like some bizarre arrangement of flowers.

    Presently, the victor turned to face Taryn. She stepped back, the gravwand suddenly heavy in her hand.

    “Taryn,” screamed the Captain, “You must fire!”

    The thick air grated on her throat as the young midshipman adjusted the weapon to Concussion Mode — Light. Surely pushing the animal away would be okay…

    “May I too exist,” she muttered, “In order to live, in order to serve, in order to help dispel the miseries of the worlds…”

    Midshipman Taryn Zoë Schacht felt, not heard, the crack of the beam as it violated the air before it. The air and the flesh. The deerpig blew asunder like so much smoke caught in a gust of wind.

    Taryn’s gravwand struck the ground in time to collect her tears.

    • Sue

      Congrats on a scene full of conflict. You show the external conflict in the physical battle and then reveal the internal conflict through a few carefully placed details such as the heaviness of the wand and the catch in her throat. Depending on what comes before and after this, she’s had to make a choice that has cost her.
      Thanks so much for sharing a work in progress!

    • Davidh Digman

      Thank you, Sue. I was concerned about that.

      And yes, there are a number of things she’s had to deal with described in earlier scenes. This also foreshadows a later scene in which she must take command of a group of ratings (equivalent to ‘seamen’ or ‘able seamen’) and non-commissioned officers when large animals attack and start killing the crew.

    • Dey


      You have this written in omni, where her actions and thoughts are explained to me (the reader). It’s very distant and not emotionally engaging. Words like sultry, presently, as the young midshipman, Midshipman Taryn Zoe Schacth felt, and the entire last sentence, serve to push reader out and away from the action.

      So while there is life or death conflict, I’m not “feeling” it. The only phrasing that hints at all that she has a conflict with kill or be killed is the line “May I too exist…” but to my ear that sound like a colloquialism or prayer, rather than fear or regret or any particular emotional response.

      If you want to show that the choice to kill is difficult for her, the reader needs to know why. Now this may be knowledge that was laid down prior, but it’s not on the “page” here. She doesn’t hesitate, or waffle or look to hide or any of the things I would expect a person to do if they were torn about doing something.

    • Davidh Digman

      Thank you for this, Dey.

      There has been a lot of set-up in earlier scenes, and you are right in that it is not on this page. Perhaps that was a problem with my choice of piece!

      I think that is one problem with workshopping long-form fiction piece-by-piece.

      You are also right to pick up on her prayer. It is a common Buddhist prayer, and her use of it is an attempt on her part to steady herself. It is also ironic given that the prayer is one that recognises the Buddhist notion that all sentient beings — including animals — are equal.

      I will think about your suggestion on the use of the omniscient POV. I wanted to be able to show her attempted removal from emotion whilst simultaneously showing how hard it is for her. Further, as Taryn’s focus is on the deerpig and on her gravwand, I wanted a POV that would allow me to show the involvement of the Captain.

      So thank you. You have given me an awful lot to consider. And that is always a wonderful thing!

  8. Barb Sippley

    This is my first post. I’m wondering if it is OK to use an overworked phrase as a jump-off point for my writing. I have found poetry easiest, but am trying other genres also.

    Manly Men
    Manly men love trucks and cars and danger and lots of speed.
    They love the thrill of risky moves.
    It really seems a need.

    Manly men are vulnerable when others take the lead.
    They’re threatened when they lose control.
    Leaders they are indeed.

    Would it be better to title it “My Many Man” and make the appropriate changes? Would love to hear some feedback.

    • Sheila B

      kudos for sharing poetry.
      Did you really mean “My Many Man” or did you intend it to say, “My Manly Man,” or “My Many Men?” “My Many Man” doesn’t appeal or make sense to me.
      I don’t have a problem with an overworked phrase or cliche as a title, but one needs to give new insight, a new perspective to a cliche or overworked phrase to make it really work.
      So that is my feedback on the questions you ask, and from Sue post here, I’ve learned to withhold other thoughts than what the writer has asked for. Thanks Sue!

    • Barb Sippley

      I meant to say, “My Manly Man”.
      Thanks for the feedback. All comments are welcome.

    • Sue

      Hi Barb, Thanks for sharing a work in progress. I like the hard strong sounds in the first stanza followed by the softer second stanza. I think overworked phrases can work if they are presented in unusual ways (as Sheila stated so well). Here it seems to reinforce the accepted meaning if I’m not mistaken. I’m wondering about the last two lines though and how they work with the established “manly men” from the first stanza. The opening seems to be in praise of them, but “they’re threatened when they lose control” seems to be a negative followed by “Leaders they are indeed”– I’m wondering if the last line is meant to be ironic (meaning they are not good leaders). Might be able to clarify with an image that shows what “lose control” looks like in this case? Thanks for being brave and sharing your work.

  9. Sheila B

    I belong to a writing group that has been meeting for years.
    We have very good guidelines for giving feedback, from which we sometimes stray.
    It does help immensely when someone ask for specific feedback, as Sue Weems suggests.
    But if we limit the request and that request is honored, we can miss feedback that might alert us to some major problem in the writing.
    Our guidelines for feedback are to say what our initial overall impression of the writing conveys, what feelings or images it left on us. And then back that up with specifics of language use in the writing that support our impressions. Finally we share any problems we had with the writing, shift of tense, word use that struck us wrong, chronology, etc.
    I once gave the feedback that a piece left me confused, and was informed that I was supposed to say what I liked about the piece. That was a flashback to when we had a formula we called a feedback sandwich where we said what we liked, what “bumped” us and possible fixes, and return to some form of encouragement for the writer.
    Some in our group felt that approach pulled punches and was a little too soft pedaling if writers were serious about their work.
    Sometimes people get too deep into the story or emotions of the story or express how they want more of one thing or another or even the direction they want the story to take.
    I prefer to stay with the writing as written, and state if it leaves me wanting or longing for something else, such as “I wanted to know more of the characters emotional reaction to the action,’ or I wanted to see more of the color and texture of the narrators experience.”
    But I think it’s important to be careful not to suggest direction for a piece.
    Often those giving feedback say they want to know this or that, want more detail, more information, more emotions. It is as if they want the writer to do all the work for them.
    I believe that the writer’s job is to stimulate the imagination of the reader, to write in such a way that the words evoke images, emotions, memories, identification, or curiosity in the reader, but not to literally answer every question the reader may have. I prefer to have something left to my imagination so that reading is more like have a conversationw ith the writier.

    • Sue

      Great point about missing feedback. In a well-established, safe group, I would feel more comfortable leaving it open to anything the group sees/questions. (Finding and maintaining such a group is an absolute treasure!) I wonder how many writers are in such well-managed, respectful groups? If a writer (especially a new writer) is not in an invested community like yours, getting feedback requires both guts and a little savvy to sift through what is helpful.
      I tend to think writers at all stages need and benefit from the positives and encouragement, as well as the questions and weaknesses a text raises.
      Thanks for sharing your group’s process! I use a similar one with my students, but I always love seeing how others are operating in effective ways. So appreciate you joining in this conversation.

  10. Jason Bougger

    I run a small press ezine and try to leave personal feedback with every rejection. Usually it’s just two comments, first what they did well, and second, why I’m not accepting the story.

    But for longer critiques, I find it most helpful to look at the big picture and note any glaring plot holes, unresolved problems, and what I would do to improve the story. I would stay away from correcting grammar errors or rewriting sentences.

    I once has another writer “critique” one of my stories by simply rewriting the entire thing in his voice. Never do that 🙂

    • Sue

      Jason, thanks for chiming in. What a gift to leave feedback with each rejection. So often it is a form letter. I completely agree with your comment on longer critiques. Donald Graves (a writing teacher) once shared a great analogy about writing and golf. He said when someone learns to play golf, the instructor will have the novice hit a bucket of balls. The instructor immediately sees a hundred things that are wrong– the grip, the back swing, the feet, etc, but a wise instructor also knows he can’t share all of them at once. So he points out one thing and has the golfer hit another bucket until that ONE thing is mastered. Then they move to the next thing. As a writing teacher, that resonated with me. Your advice to look at the big picture and choose the most glaring holes to address reminded me of Graves’ analogy. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Jason Bougger

      Thanks for sharing. Great analogy.

  11. Davidh Digman

    Fantastic post, Sue. I have really enjoyed the discussion.

  12. drjeane

    I loved the information in this article. As an editor, I look back at advice given in the early years and realize how “wrong” I was.

    The writing prompt didn’t take me there – instead this emerged.

    But That’s Not How You Do It

    “You need to hold the screw driver straight – otherwise you will cross-thread it.” I thought I was holding it straight, after all I was the one on hands and knees replacing the metal cover over the motor on the back of the refrigerator. I swallowed those words and said only, “I think it is straight.” “Oh, get out of the way and I’ll do it.” I struggled to my feet and moved from in back of the refrigerator, knowing it was useless to protest.

    Why was I the one trying to put the panel back in place? After two knee replacements, he has difficulty getting on hands and knees. I was so hoping the screw wouldn’t go in for him, but, of course, it did. Maybe I wasn’t looking at it as straight on as I thought I was.

    I do know how frustrating it can be to watch someone complete a task the “wrong way,” while I know (as the observer) what should be done. Our roles switch when he is on the computer and asking me to “help” resolve a question. I so want to just ask him to move and let me do it – maybe next time I’ll try that and, if he protests, I’ll remind him of the “refrigerator job.” How many years does it take in a relationship to iron out these bumps? Or, is that not the point. Is it rather to learn to appreciate each other’s strengths – no matter how irritating they may be in the moment.

  13. Jo

    Hello Sue and hello everyone!

    I have been reading the Write Practice e-mails and posts but I didn’t take the time and I didn’t really have the courage to post something,but since I have a story I’ve finished these days,I would love to share and receive some feedback.
    I have to mention,I am not a native speaker,I am a romanian who has been living in Chicago for one year now but who grew up singing songs in english :). I’ve been thinking for a while whether I should write in english or not knowing that there are so many words,idioms and language subtilities I don’t know yet and that writing requires a rich vocabulary.

    But this is it, this is a piece of my 3 pages story that I wrote in english :).

    “22 years old,life seemed good and steady.After graduating,Harmon got lucky, as others might say and found a job in sales and marketing assistance in a firm, he thaught that would bring him more money than writing and would give him the wild and glamorous life he dreamed about.
    It felt so right at the beginning, like he found a purpose,a new challenge, he would work hard and thrive and party on weekends in the blues bars of Chicago with his girlfriend and his colleagues,but lately he started to feel lost and sad,like everyday was the same, a race where he had to pull up the charts, to help the firm sale more and more products, fast and aggressively,things went south in the firm and he suddenly felt dispensable.
    Life has slipped by so quickly lately,not enough time to spend with the woman he loved,same routine every day,same charts,same questions,same doubts,same pain, it was like a weird dream repeating itself.
    Harmon woke up early in the morning, grabbed his coffee from Starbucks and then spent there nearly two hours studying products,numbers and ideas for the new campaign then he walked to the office unaware of his surroundings like the sea of people around him rushing as well to get to work,this was a regular day for him,until one Monday.
    Another Monday in Chicago, it was 9:20 am,as he was walking down the crowded Wacker street with the coffee in his hand he felt drained of energy,lifeless and conflicted,his thoughts were chaotic and his heart was in pain,the air was humid and heavy and the noyse of the city was nearly unbearable,he stopped at the red light,as he stood there waiting, a silhouette caught his attention, on his right at 10 feet away an old man with wore off clothes and weary eyes was combing his gray hair looking in a coffee shop window, his moves were slow and he looked like he was a homless person living on the streets of Chicago,he had two big bags at his feet as if they were all that he had.
    Harmon missed the green light as he was all of a sudden mesmerized,he hadn’t seen this man before,but he looked so familiar to him.”

  14. Jane Stone

    This is a piece of my finished story that never got published (if you exclude the fact that I posted it on one of the sites available for reading to those who find it interesting).I would like an honest feedback about the feeling of this particular scene, the flow of it and the vividness.You can critique my grammar too since i’m not a native speaker.
    The story is about time travelling, particularly only male members of the family can do it and it’s carried through generations from father to son.This particular scene shows the main character’s condition after successfully travelling back in time to prevent his lover from getting murdered:

    Seoul, sumer of 2016

    He jerks up with a gasp.
    The rapid motion leaves him feeling as if he were drowning, managing to free himself seconds before he was suffocated for good.And it’s familiar, the relief that washes over him like a summer downpour, tense muscles relaxing, breaths evening out into a series of steady inhales and exhales.
    ‘I did it.’
    The feeling of alleviation only warms him up more, reducing the dread that’s been crunching in his stomach nonstop.
    He blinks, shakes his head and checks the alarm clock on the bedside table.Dim light flickers through a slot on the door, reflecting against the digital device making the red numbers blink up at him.
    With a sigh, he lets his fingers glide over the crumpled sheets, mind still slightly disoriented and detached from the surroundings.White fabric pulls over his flushed skin almost sensually making his body irrupt with goosebumps.
    He lifts the sheets from his lower body with a frown and…of course.Of course he’s naked.Why wouldn’t he be?
    He remembers this clearly since it hadn’t occurred a long time ago.And even if it had, he certainly wouldn’t be able to forget the feeling of smooth skin, as pale as the sheets, underneath his callused fingertips and all those erotic whispers against the shell of his ear.But more than anything else, he definitely wouldn’t be able to forget the overwhelming heat traveling through his veins like a drug, igniting every nerve in his body in flame.
    With one last distressed sigh, he tangles his hands into his hair, fingers digging into the scalp with a force to bruise.
    ‘This I can deal with.’
    Physical pain he’d take anyday over this horrible ache that dissolves his heart to pieces as if poured over with acid.
    ‘But I did it.’
    The realization clings to him like second skin, soft breeze from outside ruffling the strands of hair that have fallen into his eyes without him even noticing.



  1. June Recommended Links on Writing | - […] The Write Practice also had some words to say on How to Give and Take Better Writing Feedback. […]
  2. Writing Workshop: Can a Workshop Help You Become a Better Writer? - […] Getting feedback from editors/teachers and other students/writers […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Say Yes to Practice

Join over 450,000 readers who are saying YES to practice. You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts:

Popular Resources

Books By Our Writers

Surviving Death
- Sarah Gribble
- J. D. Edwin
A Shadow Stained in Blood
- Ichabod Ebenezer
Share to...