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Updated: Oct 31, 2022

How does one walk across an active minefield? Most people don’t rush across it hoping by some lucky chance to make it across with their legs still attached. We find a map showing where the mines are laid and plan where we can safely put our boots on the ground.

Giving feedback can be like venturing across a minefield. Before doing so, it is advisable to make some basic preparations. Otherwise, we could find ourselves in a situation like the one described below:

Angela was invited to attend a writing group meeting by the group convenor. It was Angela's first time in the group. At this particular meeting, members were giving readings of their works in progress and the other members/writers were giving them feedback. As a group, they were going to publish an anthology of their stories and essays later in the year. Angela was conscientious and took notes during the readings so she could refer to specific examples.

After each reading, some people gave brief responses which were all positive and non-specific. Angela joined in and provided both positive comments as well as some constructive comments about how the writing might be improved. What Angela did not know (she had no way of knowing this information!) was that the etiquette in this group was only to give each other encouraging, complimentary feedback. Around the room, some members bristled at Angela's comments and there was a general move to resist and dismiss her well-meaning feedback. Angela found herself stuck in the minefield, a distinctly unpleasant experience.

It is a compliment to be asked by a fellow writer to provide feedback on their latest work. But we are not going to venture across the minefield without some kind of map. We need some clear guidelines on what kind of feedback they would like which oftentimes they fail to explain. Some things to discuss before you agree to being a feedback giver:

1. First response is to clarify what kind of feedback the other writer wants. Some possible questions to ask:

“What sort of feedback are you looking for?” (Keep asking until you are clear.)

“Do you want the big picture aspects as to whether the story was engaging, suspenseful,

highly readable, a likely commercial proposition, etc?

"Are you looking for the specifics of what works well and, vice versa, what you could do

more of, or less of, to improve your manuscript?

2. Strive for balance (a key word) and be truthful. Always position your positive points and what you see as the writer's strengths at the start of the feedback meeting or conversation.

3. Be concrete rather than making vague statements. If you liked the story or characters, what did you like, and why? If you found some gaps in the story, which parts, and why? Give examples which one senior editor describes as 'actionable information' in your feedback.

4. Be conscious of the sensitivity which all writers feel (especially emerging writers). Be tactful and kind in your comments. As fellow writers, we should understand our creative output is not a mere product; that it comes from our inner life and is wired into our hearts and souls.

5. Choose your feedback language carefully. Suggest, don’t tell when giving feedback, for example “Perhaps you could ….” or “Have you thought of ….” or “Would you consider ….”

6. If you are neither a writer nor a reader of the other writer's genre, say so up front. In some instances, this may be a drawback and in others it will not be an issue.

Asking for feedback and giving feedback to fellow writers is a really valuable resource. They are two sides of the one coin and, ideally, learning takes place for the receiver and the giver alike.

Contact Lynne on 0421 998749 or via the Contact Form.

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1 Comment

Carmel Rowley
Carmel Rowley
Sep 21, 2022

Such helpful advice. Not only for writers but life in general. As a breeder of Arabian horses for over forty years one had to learn to tread carefully when people asked for opinions about where they were heading with their beloved horses. Thank you Lynne.

Kindest regards

Carmel Rowley

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