How to Evaluate Writing Feedback: 5 Writing Tips

How to Evaluate Writing FeedbackWelcome to Part Four of the Feedback series! Today it’s time to talk about how to evaluate writing feedback! Be sure to check out Part One: Finding the Right Early Readers for Your Writing, Part Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages, and Part Three: How to Give Helpful Feedback.

Learning to evaluate writing feedback is another essential tool for writers. It’s important to get your work critiqued, but that doesn’t mean you should take every piece of advice you’re given. As I’ve said this a few times during this series, it’s important to remember that not every reader will be the right reader for your book. Because of that, not every reader will give you helpful feedback.

Beyond that, even if a reader is right for your project, you shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your book. You get to decide what advice you take and what advice you don’t. So, how do you separate the good critiques from the bad?

Here are five things to consider when you evaluate writing feedback:

1) Consider the source

Everyone has different tastes and different perspectives. In order to truly evaluate the feedback you’re getting, it’s important to have a good understanding of your reader’s perspectives and how they line up with your vision for the book. For example, let’s say you’ve written a fantasy novel with a light romance subplot and you get feedback from an early reader who is a massive romance fan. The feedback they give you about the romance in your book is probably going to be pretty solid. If they read and/or write a lot of romance, then they probably have a good grasp of the genre’s characteristics and will be able to help strengthen that subplot.

However, they may also tell you that they think the romance plot needs to be bigger. As a massive romance fan, they naturally want more romance. But if that’s not the kind of book you’re intending to write, then that’s not the kind of feedback you need to act on. Recognizing the difference between what your reader wants from a story and what you want for your story play a massive role in picking out helpful feedback. When both of your interests line up, take that feedback to heart. When they don’t, set that feedback aside.

2) Pay attention to the “why”

When it comes time to evaluate writing feedback, why someone believes something is always more important than the note itself. I was in a workshop once where I had written a short piece about a bunch of teenagers. I intended it to be very dramatic and it was. There was one scene that someone told me they didn’t like because it was very melodramatic. They meant this to be a negative critique, but since I was going for dramatic, it wasn’t as negative the person thought it was. They may not have liked the scene, but their reason for not liking it was exactly what I was trying to achieve. As far as I was concerned, I accomplished my goal.

This can go both ways. Perhaps you get a note from someone that says, “I love this scene. It’s nice for the characters to have a moment where they feel safe.” It might be nice that your reader likes the scene, but if you don’t want your characters to feel safe in that moment, then it’s a sign to revise.

By all means, take in your reader’s options, but base your decision to revise on the reasoning and not the opinion itself.

3) Trust your gut

If someone points out an aspect of your story that’s been bothering you, then chances are whatever they found is worth listening to. Your gut often knows when something in your story isn’t quite sitting right, even if you don’t know what it is or how to fix it. However, your gut also tends to know when something is working. If you’re someone who’s receptive to feedback, but find yourself thinking “absolutely not” to a note, there’s probably a reason for it. Be open to the feedback you get. Consider it seriously. But it’s okay to dismiss a critique simply because it doesn’t feel right. You know your story better than anyone. If it’s not right, it’s not right.

4) Ask follow up questions

If a note is either confusing or feels way off base, it’s okay to ask your reader to clarify. I can’t tell you how many times I was ready to dismiss a note that actually turned out to be helpful once I asked for more information. Don’t dismiss feedback simply because it doesn’t make sense. Double check to make sure you’re understanding the suggestion/problem correctly. If it still seems wrong after you’ve clarified, then disregard it. But don’t risk trashing a good note just because you didn’t follow up with your reader.

5) Don’t take feedback personally

This probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. If you’ve asked for feedback on your book, it’s important not to take the feedback you’ve asked for as a personal attack. If you’ve given your book to people you can trust and people who you know want to help and support you, then trust that any feedback they give is in the spirit of wanting to make your book the best it can be.

Granted, sometimes you may find yourself frustrated because someone didn’t like your book at all and didn’t give you anything helpful, but that doesn’t mean you should get angry at them. It means you shouldn’t give them another book of yours to critique. Don’t burn bridges over feedback. You can still be friends with someone even if they don’t get or can’t help you with your writing. Just know that they aren’t the right people to help you in the future.

I hope this helps you evaluate writing feedback!

Find the rest of the feedback series here: Part One: Find the Right Early Readers for Your WritingPart Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages, Part Three: How to Give Helpful Feedback.

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Now it’s your turn: How do you evaluate writing feedback? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Give Helpful Writing Feedback: 4 Writing Tips

How to Give helpful writing feedbackWelcome to Part Three of the Feedback series! Today it’s time to talk about how to give helpful writing feedback! Be sure to check out Part One: Finding the Right Early Readers for Your Writing and Part Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages.

Giving feedback is an important skill for a writer to have. If you’re going to ask other writers for feedback on your story, it’s nice to be able to reciprocate. Giving feedback is a delicate balancing act. A good critique is honest, critical, and helpful, but also encouraging. This post will cover what I believe to be the best way to give helpful writing feedback.

Praise

Start by praising the writer for what they’re doing well! It’s important for the writer to know that you did like some aspect of their story, whether it be a character, a plotline, a chapter, or a scene. This may seem like you’re playing to the writer’s ego (and sure, to some extent you are) but this also plays two key roles in the critiquing process.

First, it’s important for the writer to feel like you are on their side. If you start with a heavy critique, it’s easy for the writer to get defensive and resistant. If you’re going to take the time to offer feedback on someone else’s work, it’s nice if they’re receptive to the thoughts you have. By starting your feedback with praise, it helps the writer let their guard down and see that any future critiques are coming from a desire to help make their project the best it can be.

Second, as I’ve said in Part One, it’s important for the writer to know what they’re doing well. This gives them areas within their own work to look to for inspiration. This is as true when you’re the one giving feedback as it is when you’re the one receiving feedback.

Critique

Now that you’ve got things started on the right note, it’s time to really dig in. This is going to be the meat of your feedback. When critiquing, kindness is key. It’s okay if you don’t like a major aspect of a book or story, but there’s no reason to lay into to writer. It’s likely they worked as hard on their book as you did on yours. It is possible to point out problems without making them feel like they’re terrible writers.

One of my favorite methods for a kind critique is to avoid making judgments or statements and instead ask as many questions as possible. So, rather than saying, “I hate this character’s name. It reminds me of death. You should change it.” Instead say something like, “Was this character’s name supposed to make me think of death? If not, you might want to think about changing it.” As you can see, questioning a decision doesn’t come on quite as strong as making a judgment. It’s also a good way of pointing out a problem without making a major decision for the writer.

If you are going to make a statement/judgment (and sometimes it’s unavoidable) it’s important to be specific and say why you think what you do. Simply saying, “this whole scene is terrible” is super unhelpful. You need to say why it’s terrible. Is it the story? A specific plotline? Are the characters acting in a way that feels out of character? This kind of feedback tells the writer specifically what they need to fix and gives them a deeper understanding of their book’s issues.

Something else to consider:

I would argue that unless you are an editor or agent, it’s not your job to judge another writer’s work or decide if it’s “good enough.” As a fellow writer/critique partner, it’s your job to help and support. By all means, point out any and all areas you believe can be improved, but there’s no reason to ever say something like, “I just can’s see an agent or editor ever accepting this” is unnecessary. Just because you wouldn’t accept it if you were an agent or editor doesn’t mean someone else won’t. A successful critique should inspire the writer to get back to work and make some exciting changes in revision, not discourage the writer from continuing.

Suggest

Lastly, offer a few suggestions to the problems you pointed out in the critique. This can help the writer generate some new ideas and solutions, and give them a starting point for revision. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is not your book, and therefore I would strongly advise against telling another writer what they “need” to do. It’s their book. They don’t need to do anything they don’t want to. Make suggestions and give them some ideas to consider, but respect the fact that they get to make the final decision.

Final note: Don’t lie

As much as being kind and encouraging is important, don’t lie. If you intend to give helpful writing feedback, an honest assessment is essential. If you read a book and you can’t find any strengths or come up with any suggestions for improvement other than “rewrite it”, then it’s possible that you are not the right reader for the project. I think in that situation your best bet would be to give the book back to the writer without a critique. Tell the writer that it’s not your kind of book, and you don’t think you can give helpful writing feedback. The writer may be disappointed and hurt that you didn’t like it enough to critique, but that’s better than them being so devastated by any feedback you would give that they might give up altogether.

I hope this helps you give helpful writing feedback!

Be sure to check out Part Four: How to Evaluate Feedback! Be sure to check out Part One: Find the Right Early Readers for Your Writing and Part Two: What You Should Ask for Writing Feedback in Stages!

Now it’s your turn: How do you give helpful writing feedback? What elements of the story do you consider? Tell me about it in the comments!

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The Best Way to Get Writing Feedback: 4 Writing Tips

Why you should ask for writing feedback in stagesWelcome to Part Two of the Feedback series! Today we’re going to look at why you should ask for writing feedback in stages. Be sure to check out Part One: Finding the Right Early Readers for Your Writing!

As we talked about in Part One of this series, getting writing feedback is important! And it’s usually best if you have several early readers so you have the benefit of a handful of perspectives. Once you find your early readers, it might be tempting to give everyone your shiny new book right away. However, I would suggest instead starting with one or two early readers at a time. Then make changes based on their feedback, give the revision to another early reader, and repeat this process until you’ve run out of readers.

I’m a big believer in staggering writing feedback like this. In fact, it’s a major factor in my writing process. Here are four reasons why I’ve found this approach to be insanely beneficial:

1) You get fresh eyes with each revision

This is the biggest reason why I use this method. A reader can only experience your story for the first time once. Once they read it, they’ll point out things that are confusing or don’t make sense about your book. If you’re like me, you’ll also discuss possible solutions with your early reader. This means your reader will know what you want to happen and how you want to fix the issues.

Once you make the changes, it makes sense to have the person who gave you the feedback look over the revision. However, since this person has more background information because of your discussion, it’s possible they won’t be able to pick up on the problems in the same way a new reader would. But if you’ve saved some of your early readers for later, you can give your book to a fresh set of eyes, see what issues they point out, and check in with them about the changes or clarifications you made based on your first reader’s feedback. This can give you more confidence that you’ve addressed your book’s issues effectively.

2) You can play to your readers’ strengths

I have about five to seven early readers, and something I’ve learned over the years is that they all have different strengths. Some are stronger big-picture thinkers, while others are better at digging into the more technical grammar and logistical details of a story, and others have varying degrees in between.

Big Picture thinkers are more helpful with earlier drafts. They can often spot bigger character/plot problems and scenes that are either out of place or not working. Their strengths lie in giving developmental feedback that can make your story stronger and more complete.

Meanwhile, grammar and technical questions aren’t all that helpful in early drafts. It doesn’t make much sense to correct grammar and iron out the logistics of a scene if that scene really needs to be cut or rewritten. But this type of feedback is essential in the later stages of a draft. Before you send it to an agent or editor, you want to make sure your grammar is as clean as you can make it and the logistics of your story make sense.

If you learn the strengths of your reader, staggering your feedback puts you in the position to get the best possible critique at each stage of your novel.

3) Too much feedback can give you too much to think about

The good and bad thing about writing is that it’s all subjective. This means that there is no true “right” way to read something. However, that also means it’s possible to get conflicting feedback and conflicting advice. In the end, it all comes down to you as the writer. You need to decide what changes you will make to your story. But it can be hard to make a decision that feels right for your book if your thoughts are getting pulled in too many different directions.

However, if you only give your book to one or two readers at a time, you have more control over the amount of feedback you’re getting at once. This makes it easier to evaluate each opinion and make a decision that feels right for your story without getting overwhelmed.

4) It helps build your confidence

Sharing and talking about your novel for the first time can be a little nervewracking. If you let one (supportive) person read your book at a time, it can help you get used to your work being read. And if you’ve chosen your readers correctly, by the time you’re ready to share it with the world, you’ll feel supported, encouraged, and proud of the progress your book has made. You’ll know that you have a handful of ideal readers who like and believe in the book you wrote. Even if others don’t like your book, you can take comfort in the fact that readers like your early readers are out there. You just have to find them!

I hope this helps you get better writing feedback!

You can find Part Three: How to Give Good Feeback here! You can also revisit Part One: Find the Right Early Readers for Your Writing here!

Now it’s your turn: How do you get your writing feedback? Have you tried getting your feedback in stages? If you have, did it help? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Find the Right Early Readers for Your Writing

Finding the Right Early Readers for your writingFeedback is an important aspect of the writing process, but it can also be a bit of process in and of itself. When I sat down to do a post on the subject, I realized how many levels to feedback back there actually are. Which is why this will be the first post in a four-part feedback series. This post deals with how to find people to give you feedback. Part Two will focus on the importance of staggering your feedback, Part 3 will discuss how to give feedback, and Part 4 will look at how to evaluate the feedback you get. Today, we’re going to look at how to find the right early readers for your books!

Today, we’re going to start by looking at how to find the right early readers for your books!

It’s important to find people who can give you feedback as you draft and revise, but it can also be unhelpful and discouraging if you ask the wrong person to critique your work. Not every reader is going to be your reader. Here are a few things to look for when you search for the right early readers for your books:

1) People who have the same taste in books/entertainment as you

It’s nice if they’re also writers, but they don’t have to be. They just have to be high-quality entertainment consumers who like the types of stories you’re trying to write. They also should be good at understanding the basics of story construction and be able to identify a story’s problems.

How can you find out if someone has these qualities? Talk to them about books and shows you like and dislike and why. The why is the most important. If that person has the same taste in entertainment as you and is able to thoughtfully critique and explain their reasoning, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to do the same for you and your book.

2) People who can find the gems in the roughest of drafts

It’s important to have a reader who can see a draft not just for what it is, but for what it could be. This is a very special skill. Most people are conditioned to read polished, published products, so seeing the strengths in a rough draft can be a real challenge for them. A good early reader will be able to sift through the problems and make note of them, but still find what’s working and be able to get excited about it. Which leads me to point three–

3) People who can be both critical and encouraging

You really do need both. I’ve heard some writers say they want an early reader or an editor who will tear their book apart, not tell them what they want to hear. And while I think those are both fairly good qualities in someone who is giving feedback, I think it’s equally as important for that person to be able to tell you what is working well and why. 

There are two reasons for this. First, and most importantly, I like to know what’s working so I can pull from those places and create a more consistent book. So if I were to get a note from an earlier reader that said something like, “Chapter eight is a little uneventful,” it would also be good to hear “wow, the tension in chapter fifteen is fantastic!” This way, I can look at chapter fifteen, figure out what I did and why that’s working, and then try to replicate it to fix the problem in chapter eight.

The second reason is, quite simply, it’s A LOT of work to write a book. As much as you need people to be honest, you also need support. If your early reader can’t support you and encourage you regardless of the number of problems they find, then they may not be the best early reader for you and your work.

4) People who think differently than you

New perspectives and insights will make your story better! I know when I’m writing, I often get so locked into my story that when I find a problem, it can be hard for me to see the number of possible solutions. Having early readers who approach problems differently will help open you up to the number of different directions your book can go in. I’ve found that even if I don’t take a direct suggestion from one of my early readers, nearly every suggestion they make helps me think about my story differently and consider an angle that hadn’t occurred to me prior to talking with them, which helps widen the world of my story.

5) Places to find these people

One of my writer friends, author Julie Eshbaugh, wrote a post for PubCrawl about the importance of writerly friendships and where to find them. Some places include taking a writing class at a local college or community center or joining an organization. These are also great places to look for early readers! And if your early reader happens to also be a writer, you can offer to be an early reader for them in return! But remember, these readers don’t have to be writers, so, you might want to check out book clubs and library groups too.

Before you agree to let someone read your work, make sure you get to know your potential reader’s taste in books/entertainment. (See point #1.) Then once you know they have a passion for the same types of books and stories as you, float the idea that you’re a writer working on a book. In my experience, it’s best if you can get someone to offer to read your book–especially if they’re not a writer and you can’t offer a critique in return. You can, of course, ask, but keep in mind that some people will just say yes because they don’t know how to say no. You will get better and more thoughtful feedback from people who truly want to help as opposed to people who say yes out of obligation.

6) How I find my readers

Here’s another place to look for early readers: your own friend groups. That’s where I found all of my early readers. Now, I recognize that I’m extremely lucky to have friends that get writing and storytelling. You definitely shouldn’t trust your book to a reader just because they are a friend. But don’t overlook your friends just because they may not all be writers. Your friends often get you and what you like better than most people, which can put them in a position to help you make the book you want to make.

I hope this helps you find some awesome early readers for your writing!

It may take some trial and error to find the right set of reliable early readers, but trust me when I say they are worth looking for. My early readers have been essential to the strength and development of my stories and I couldn’t imagine writing anything without their feedback.

You can find part two in this series here!

Now it’s your turn: Do you have early readers? If you do, how did you find them and how do they help? If you don’t, what’s been your biggest challenge in finding one or concern about having one? Tell me about it in the comments!

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