Yesterday Sarah informed me that this week is WriteOnCon 2011, a free online writing conference featuring chats with authors, Q&As with literary agents, and workshops with writers at all levels. It’s not too late to check it out, so hop on over! There are some great resources and opportunities.
Taking my own advice, I spent a good part of my morning at the YA query critique forum, handing out opinions and watching for Ninja Agents. I haven’t yet decided whether to post my query for feedback and potential consideration, but I did work on it just in case.
Either way, this all got me thinking about feedback — how to give it, and how to receive it.
As a Critique Giver, your goal is not to rewrite someone else’s work, but rather to point out what wasn’t successful for you and hopefully explain why. This allows the writer to figure out their own solution, and that is how they become a better writer.
With some people (like critique partners) you might feel more comfortable giving specific suggestions, because you know them and their writing style/voice so well that you can imitate it in your edits. That’s fine. But you still can’t expect them to use your exact wording, because bottom line: as a Critique Giver, it should never be about you.
Side note: Comments based on your singular experiences are particularly unhelpful. (And annoying.) Example: “Oh, that house would never be violet! I had a house once, and it was brown.” However, comments based on your knowledge or facts are just fine. Example: “Um, that character would never have violet eyes. Humans don’t have violet eyes.”
As a Critique Receiver, you must listen to all feedback. Agreement is not required, and not really the point. The point is to get perspectives besides your own. Yes, some will be more useful than others, but even the worst or weirdest can teach you something. (Namely: to have a thick skin.)
Something I’ve been trying recently is to “just say yes.” To any and all feedback. Don’t get defensive, don’t disagree. Just go with it and see where it takes you. Accept All Changes (in Word or wherever) and then make them your own. Surprisingly, I’ve found this to be fairly successful. Hard as hell, given my stubborn personality, but successful nonetheless. Just goes to show, once again, it’s not about you. So check your pride at the door.
Of course, most of this post has been about attitude (because that’s the most important part!). In terms of the actual how, I have just a few quick tips:
- Start macro. (Plot, characters, pacing.) Giving micro-level feedback (grammar, diction, phrasing) too early is pointless and will take focus away from more important issues.
- Serve a feedback sandwich. Good stuff is your bread; stuff that needs improvement is your meat and/or veggies. Starting and ending with positive observations makes the less-positive comments easier to swallow.
- Pick your battles. Figure out which 3-4 things need the most work or will have the most impact. Don’t try to fix everything at once. It will just overwhelm the writer.
All right, I’ve used up my annual quota of italics in this post, so it’s probably time to call it quits. Hopefully I’ve said something of value. If not, just give me feedback on it.