Thanks to William for his recent article ‘How to get feedback’. In it he recommends that one way to get feedback is to offer reciprocal critique to others.
This is a double-edged sword and should be approached carefully.
For me, hard and truthful feedback, no matter how painful to read, is necessary for me to develop as a writer. Having said that, I have enough confidence in myself to take notice of just critique whilst ignoring out-and-out criticism. For some, offering their work for critique is a much more scary process. The idea that someone will find something ‘wrong’ with their work is frightening and exposing a precious story or poem to another human being seems a huge risk.
If someone asks you to critique their work, they are putting a lot of trust in you and your responsibility as a fellow writer/ friend/ loving husband etc. is to give truthful, useful feedback in a constructive manner. This can be pretty difficult at times, especially if you’re faced with something you don’t like. Here are a few simple suggestions to give useful feedback without breaking the heart of your fellow writer/ friend/ beautiful and talented wife:
- Start with the positives: Even if the piece you’re reading is largely awful, there will be something positive in it. Perhaps the concept is really exciting, even if the execution isn’t? Maybe you like one of the characters? Do you like the font they’ve used? Seriously, there will be something positive to say, and you should start with this. Remember that it is hard to ask for feedback
- Try to pinpoint what IS working and WHY: Get used to giving more detailed positive feedback, if there is a section or aspect of the work that seems to be spot on, tell the writer why.
- Be sincere and truthful: Don’t just nod and say ‘mmmm, yeah it’s great’ when you think it isn’t. Don’t be afraid to point out bits that aren’t working but try to offer a positive solution instead of just being negative. Phrase your feedback in terms that suggest this is your personal opinion and not concrete fact, this should encourage the writer to explore your suggestions without feeling too disheartened.
- Critique the piece not the author: Remember that you’re giving feedback on the piece of work, not the writer. Avoid overly personal remarks (especially if you don’t know the writer too well) and try not to make generalisations. Remember not all work is autobiographical, even if it is written in an autobiographical style. If your vicar shows you a story he has written about cross-dressing vergers, don’t go ringing up the WI in horror, it doesn’t mean it’s based on reality!
- Don’t be vengeful: Never use critique as a method of revenge! If someone else has critiqued a piece of your work and upset you, don’t reciprocate! Judge the piece, not the writer, stop being childish and (quite frankly) grow a pair.