Constructive Feedback 101

I’ve noticed lately that there’s an epidemic of people, especially writers who ask for feedback and instead get what I like to call a “flame review.” Aka, ripping the work and the author’s ego to shreds. This could not be more unproductive to everyone involved. So, given that I have a four year background in art school which required daily critiques, as well as a long term beta editor reader/editor for, I’m going to teach you how it’s done.

The correct way to critique a WIP (Work in progress) is as follows:

1. Read the WIP – sit down and actually pay attention to what you’re reading. If it’s bad, try to focus on the reasons you think that.

2. Make notes in the WIP – these are far more useful than a lot of the comments or corrections you will make later on, because they let the author know in the moment what was good and bad. And don’t be afraid to say if you really loved something too.

3. Find something positive to say about the WIP – For every one or two negative things you have to say, it’s imperative you find something positive to compliment as well. Sincerity is important, so no backhanded compliments here. Few people respond constructively with purely negative feedback. Helping someone blossom into a better writer or artist isn’t a process that happens overnight in one action. It’s an accumulation of many tiny actions. Encouraging growth is part of the process of giving a good critique. Tearing someone down takes only a moment. Building them up takes years of hard work from many people.

4. Find something that you didn’t like or needs to be improved in the WIP. Explain what it is, and the reason it needs to be improved. Be detailed. If you didn’t like a choice of words, say so. Indicate which word(s) it was. If you think a scene is weak, say so. But tell the writer why you think it’s weak. Be constructive and brutally honest when necessary, but also try to have a gentle touch. Remember, explaining what you don’t like is important too. Only saying nice things aren’t constructive to the writer either. Don’t be so nice that you don’t say what needs to be said. Still, remember, ruthless has no place in critique.

5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 as many times as necessary. One good thing for one or two bad things as often as you can. And when your critique is finished, wrap up with a soft touch. Organize your thoughts so that they have clarity. Reiterate what you think the worst problems are, but end with a encouragement and restatement of at least two things that you really liked and why you liked them. Use this moment to butter up the person you’re critiquing a little. They survived your review, so put a salve on the sting. If you can’t think of much else to say, try to find a way to tell them something positive about their writing style or their potential. Don’t just say “I love your style.” Why do you love it? Be descriptive. Be honest. Be gentle. Most of all, remember to treat people how you’d want to be treated.

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