Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How to Give Great Feedback to Fellow Writers

Do you cringe when a colleague hands you a manuscript? Giving feedback is an uncomfortable experience for many writers. How can you balance tact with honesty? What if you do not like the story? In my line of work at Grammarly, I examine writing to see which resources and techniques work best for writers. Authors tell me that criticism from fellow writers is extremely helpful. How can you be a valuable aid to your writing fellows? Follow the next five steps!

  • Be honest.
Falsity is cruelty in the world of feedback. Honesty, however, is not synonymous with rudeness. Share your viewpoint with tact. Keep your comments to merits and deficiencies of the writing, not the writer.

Bad colleague: You are horrible at characterization. The character you created was completely shallow and unlikable.

Better colleague: I felt that the main character was a bit shallow. At the end of the novel, I still had not connected with him.

  • Be critical.
If you take the time to read the work, take the time to give your honest opinion. If you say nothing, you will have wasted your time and failed to give your fellow author any helpful commentary. In your eyes, has the author perfected the story? Congratulate him, but consider if you could give some help in the realm of proofreading. Perform a grammar check. Circle any spelling mistakes or awkward phrases.

Bad colleague: (Silence)

Better colleague: The plot was great, but I found a few spelling mistakes.
  • Be prompt.
Unless you are being paid for your feedback, you might feel that it is okay to put the task on the back burner. However, if the manuscript is nearly complete, you may be the last thing standing between it and publication. If you do not have time to read the document in the following couple of days, tell the writer. He may choose to give it to someone else who has a more open schedule than you do.

Bad colleague: Sure, I will look it over! (2 weeks later) Oh, yes. I am still going to read it. I  will get it back to you soon! (2 weeks later) You know what, I haven’t read it yet….

Better colleague: I cannot read it until this weekend. Is that okay with you or do you want to try someone else?

  • Be supportive.
As writers, you and the person requesting your impressions have a lot in common. Would you benefit from attending a creative writing class together? Or, have you benefitted from a particular reference work or online resource? If you are willing to give of yourself and share resources, you will find others more willing to support you when you need it.
Bad colleague: You need to take an English course to get a better grasp of grammar.

Better colleague: There is a writing workshop over at the university. I bet we can both benefit from reviewing some grammar! Do you want to sign up for it together?

Make evaluating colleagues’ stories a positive experience! Be forthright, but season your words with salt. If you need to talk about the negative aspects of the novel, do not attack the writer personally. Instead, give practical advice on how to solve the issue. If possible, share how you have overcome the same challenges and offer your support. Soon, you may begin to enjoy giving valuable feedback to your fellow wordsmiths.
Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

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