Tag Archives: feedback

Feedback vs Feel Bad

“Well, I tried to read it, but… sorry, I couldn’t get past the first page.”

If you’ve ever put your creative work out for other to see, you likely did so wincing with trepidation, unsure what to expect.

Do they love it? Do they hate it?

Did he just laugh? At what?

Did she just raise her eyebrows?

Is that interest at a cool turn of phrase, or disgust at some mistake I didn’t catch?

Sometimes the response you get back is empty of value. Other times, it’s thoughtless and crushing.

One of the hardest steps we take as amateur writers is giving others the opportunity to read our work. It feels easier to leave all our poems or stories in files on the computer than to face the judgment we fear.

But unless it’s a private diary or journal, reading is an essential part of the writing process. The audience is the intended recipient of all our word-smithing, and their response is the tool we use to discover what we’re doing well and where we’ve missed the mark.

What if we could witness those important cues and responses in a friendly setting, a “safe space” of sorts? What if we got insight from other writers on a similar journey–people who know not just what we’re going through but how it feels–rather than from “professional readers” whose replies lack technical detail or depth?

Enter the feedback group.

I’ve written about the value of such groups before, so this time, I thought I could show an example of what good feedback looks like:

What He Would Have Wanted–Full Critique

The Word document at that link is a combination of comments and discussion points over aspects of grammar, description, dialogue, and format. I love the comment feature on Word and similar programs for this purpose.

Feedback2.png

Kyle writes epic fantasy, and he also pays great attention to detail. He uses AutoCrit among other programs and services to dig into the weeds on his own writing.

One good example of such detail is that in my original draft, I used “then” 12 times. As an example of the constructive type of feedback, Kyle not only pointed these out but also provided re-writing suggestions for how to avoid them.

Feedback1

Jessica is an avid fantasy reader and helped me see what worked really well in my descriptions.

A newcomer to the group, Natalie mentioned how a portion of dialogue struck her as possibly too modern for the setting.

Judy is a professor at one of the on-base colleges. She saw a lot of meaning in the imagery and word choice that I didn’t anticipate or intend. I can use that feedback to do a better job intentionally incorporating those aspects in future writing.

One point that isn’t captured in the document (because I forgot to add it as a comment): I described Fleuris as having hair the color of carnations… but there are many varieties of carnations. Judy and Kyle assumed red, and Jessica pictured a light pink–which is what I was aiming for. Lesson learned: it’s not a clear description as written.

At the end of the session, Natalie–a newcomer to the group–remarked that the experience was better than she expected or feared. In her career dealing with military writing, she’d seen arguments over whether to use “or” or “and” in order to highlight some meaning in an article. “People spend hours bickering over these minor details,” she said. “I guess I thought it might be like that.”

That fear is common when joining a new community or putting our work out for others to see. But like many things in life, the fear is often far worse than reality.

In a good group, everyone has the same vision of constructive criticism in order to make each other’s work better. In that light, while it may sting a little to realize I’ve made a mistake, I develop from the insight of others and hone my skills for next time.

For anyone wishing to grow as a writer, I can think of no greater resource or method than a solid, constructive feedback group.

Military Community Writers currently meets every two weeks from 10:30 to 12:30 on Saturday at the Kadena Base Library. Our next meeting is July 29th. Got something to share? Come out and take the plunge with the rest of us.

The Fault in No Stars

I had a great chat about my fantasy novel Diffraction with a co-worker today. A few days ago she joked about how she neared the end of the book and thought, “Holy cow, he has a lot of plot threads left to deal with if they all get resolved in this book.” Then of course she realized this is meant to be part of a larger series.

But that simple off-hand comment gave me a valuable reminder. I’ve written about seven chapters of the first draft of Diffusion, the next book set in the Bordermarches. But I hadn’t given enough thought to what questions a returning reader might have. This helped me go back and tweak the first couple chapters to not only provide a refresher on how various systems and mechanics work (like elemental magic, and the Gracemarks that give divine power), but it also highlighted moments where I could sum up what happened in the previous book to let readers know I’m aware some of their questions are as yet unanswered.

The other fun part of the conversation today was that I got yet another opinion on the setting, the magic system, the tweaks to old fantasy tropes, and the characters. One of my fears is that the female characters might come off as “ugh, this was so obviously written by a guy.” And thankfully, some key moments of interaction between two female characters were described as spot on. 

All that to say, I’ll ask the same of readers that I asked of my co-worker. If you read Diffraction, would you be so kind as to post a review or at least a rating on Amazon or Goodreads? I don’t need flowery praise (but of course I welcome it). I’d love some honest ratings or reviews for no other reason than to show that people actually looked at this thing and came to some conclusion about the quality of the writing. If you feel it merits one star, have at it, and if you want to lay out all the things I did wrong, I’ll take the critique. If you’re willing to give it some stars, and maybe say what you did or did not like, all the better. I’d rather a customer see several honest assessments than only two or three. Anything is better than zero or only a few reviews. 

If you know someone who self-published, I guarantee they’re interested in getting such feedback posted to primary sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Other than purchasing their book, nothing shows support and encouragement more than taking the time to post a rating or review. 

If you’re willing to do so, I deeply appreciate your time. Thanks!

A Critique Feedback Method

Last night, I chatted with an old friend and former co-worker who is also an aspiring writer. It turned out he was looking for a writing accountability partner. I was happy to oblige, as I can always use another kick in the rear to get me motivated.

Here's some feedback for my lazy butt.
Here’s some feedback for my lazy butt.

He suggested a feedback system that I thought balances the positive and negative very well. It captures some important overall aspects without necessarily digging into line-by-line details (which is what I normally do in my current critique group).

I thought I’d share it here as another option, perhaps less intrusive, for getting some feedback on a writing project.

After reading, answer the following questions:

1 – What did you like best overall? (Feel, characters, tone, etc.)

2 – Best lines (hopefully 1 or 2)

3 – Things that worked (made you want to keep reading)

4 – Any other comments

Then

1 – What doesn’t feel right?

2 – Worst lines / paragraphs

3 – What confusing thing needs further clarification now (i.e. not an intriguing mystery to be explained)?

4 – Things that definitely don’t work

5 – Other constructive criticism or funny/biting comments

I think this is a great idea, and I am eagerly looking forward to how this partnership develops.

Any thoughts about additions to this feedback method? Are there any aspects you’d want to see covered if it was your piece getting reviewed? Let me know in a comment.

Also, I really can’t say enough about the importance of getting a real person’s feedback on creative writing. Critique group has been the most wonderful experience thus far in my short writing journey, and it’s the school where I’ve learned the most lessons in the shortest time.

I documented many of those lessons in a series of posts in April, discussing Elements of Critique that I look for when critiquing a piece of writing. These lessons are condensed into this free e-book .pdf for your use: Elements of Critique

It’s designed to help any critique know what to look for, and to help anyone set up their own critique group if they don’t have one available to join.

If you find it helpful, I’d love to hear about it.

Critique Group Freebie

In April I participated in the annual A-to-Z Blog Challenge, with “Elements of Critique” as my theme. I wrote from A to Z (plus 3 extra posts) on everything to look for when critiquing someone’s writing, as well as a suggested method of running a critique group.

The series was well-received, and I committed to compiling the posts into one handy document.

Finally, the 64-page PDF is available, set up for easy digital viewing with hyperlinked chapters and table of contents.

It’s free for personal use, because I’d love for other writers to get the benefits and joy I received from attending a positive and helpful critique group.

Elements of Critique

If you find it useful, I’d love to know. It’s also going to remain on a permanent page at the front of my WordPress site.

Thanks for the encouragement along the way. I hope this serves you well.

Elements of Critique: Constructive

It’s every creator’s not-so-hidden fear. Someone is going to see, hear, or read their work and walk away saying, “It sucked. I hated it.”

Many of us struggle to put our precious babies out there to an audience, because we fear the reception they’ll receive.

That’s part of why critiques are so important. They’re not just a corrective measure to help identify flaws and strengths in a work. They’re also about building confidence…

So long as everyone agrees to provide constructive criticism.

It’s great to hear good things about one’s efforts. For me, there’s nothing quite so delightful as seeing how others receive something creative of mine, whether a song or drawing or piece of writing. Critique groups can help point out the good stuff in our writing. “Sad scene, but well written.” “I thought that was a nice touch that communicated that character’s voice well.” “That’s a strong, descriptive verb. Good choice!”

Now I have to be clear: Constructive criticism is not warm fuzzy accolades and blowing smoke to make someone feel good. “Oh it’s so delightful, I love the way you came up with sentence structures no one has ever used before! I really felt like I knew your cardboard cutout supporting characters by the way they had no redeemable virtues! You don’t even need to build a believable conflict into your story. It’ll be published for sure!”

Even though a critique group often includes friends, we don’t gather to puff each other up and gloss over weaknesses.

Constructive means we’re building something, and many building projects start by tearing down what presently stands in a given place. So it might feel painful to see all one’s flaws exposed and highlighted, but a good critique does just that…

In order to build on the strengths that remain once the flaws are removed.

In the military, we have an unwritten rule that certainly applies elsewhere. “Don’t just tell me the problem. Come with a solution.” Constructive critiques are like that.

“I didn’t like this part” gives the writer an indication of where to look for a problem, but it doesn’t capture what the problem actually is. “The grammar here is wrong. ‘The display of colors capture my attention.’ should read ‘the display of colors captures’ because it’s the display we’re talking about.”

“I didn’t like the way this solution presented itself in the story because it felt too much like a deus ex machina – in swoops the hero who happens to have just the device needed to stop the villain and save the damsel in distress with 3 seconds left on the timer of the bomb.” The next part is the most important. “Could you try… (potential fix) instead?”

A constructive critique doesn’t just point out flaws and present fixes for each error. The goal is to make the writer stronger, more skillful. So why not present an explanation that helps them identify similar problems elsewhere in their work?

I mentioned I joined Scribophile recently. It’s an online critique community where you earn points to post your own works by giving constructive critique to others. I’ve got a chapter up for critique, and I got thoughtful feedback from one of my followers on the site.

Warning: Work in Progress
Warning: Work in Progress

Take a look at some of these examples:
“I think this disrupts the flow here, I’d try to integrate it with the above” – along with a suggested cut of a clunky phrase and a reworded sentence to include the important elements.
“I would keep with the slow soothing dialogue, rather than the command. It seems a bit out of character.”
“How does this growing power make Lyllithe feel internally? Is her head buzzing? Or does she start to feel exceptionally warm? Perhaps more and more confidence is welling up as the doubts recede?”
“Hmmm, I find this draws me away from Lyllithe too much, and right now I am fully invested in her.”
“Since you used ‘focused’ in the sentence, there’s no need to say ‘attention.'”

Problem, explanation, solution.

This gives me feedback I can build on.

If you’re stopping by for the A to Z Blog Challenge, thanks! Tomorrow I’ll be looking at Dialogue. Maybe I’ll have something constructive to say.