Giving and Receiving Feedback in a Writers’ Group

Establishing Parameters and Guidelines

One of the main benefits of joining a writers group is to receive feedback on your writing. We’d been talking a lot about giving and receiving valid feedback in our writers group, especially in the early days of establishing the group.
Because we were a mixed group, and not focused on one genre, the task of critiquing one another’s work was complex. Obviously, it would have been easier if we were all writing in the same genre, e.g. Creative Nonfiction, Romance Writing, or Crime Fiction. We could then have focused more narrowly on the aspects to do with good writing within that genre.
But as we were a mixed bunch, we had to consider one another’s creative goals,  before we launched into feedback.
Most of us were aware of the sensitive nature of giving criticism, especially in a large group, and we felt that it was right and proper to tread carefully, or at least to be well-informed when critiquing.

During the early weeks, we started developing a list of points to help us improve our skills in this area.

Guidelines from the Bondi Writers’ Group

Suggested Guidelines for Giving Feedback

1.   As an editor of others’ work, it is important, ideally, to be widely read.

2.   Take into account the basic issues of narrative structure, characterisation, evocative and atmospheric language, vivid settings, scenes creation, and believable dialogue, relevant to all types of good creative writing.

3.   Take on the task of critiquing with a positive and helpful intention; read carefully, trying to understand the writer’s purpose and creative goal; consider the genre, the narrator’s point of view, and the voice.

4.   It is better not to offer criticism if you do not like the genre or style of writing under consideration.

5.   Is the emphasis more on character, experimentation with language, psychological/philosophical issues or story?

6.   Remember that some people may be highly sensitive in relation to some pieces on offer. This is especially true for new writers, or those who have not offered their work for feedback before.

7.   Think carefully about what is not working for you, and what is working, before you offer criticism. Give the positives first and say why. Give the negatives next, and say why it doesn’t work for you, and how you think it could be made better.

8.   Be truthful in your criticism. The writer needs guidance, not niceties.

 Some Guidelines for Accepting Feedback

1. Be prepared to accept negative feedback, especially if 2 or more members agree on it.

2.  If possible, look on your work as a “product” after it is “out there.”

3.  Look on feedback as a valuable means of improving your writing.

4Rewrite your work in accordance with the feedback received, and see if it is better.

5.  Remember that all writers have received negative feedback at times.

6.  One suggestion is not to show your work until you feel confident about doing so.

7.  A sure sign that you can write is that you keep going after knockbacks.

8.  Ask for suggestions on how to improve your work from the group.


8 responses to “Giving and Receiving Feedback in a Writers’ Group”

  1. Thanks, Anne, for posting these guidelines, which we’ve both worked on and modified over the years. It’s important to remember that we’re critiqueing the work, not the person who wrote it. If anything in the author’s work is distressing, and you are unable to detach from it, it’s best to withhold criticism while recognising the power of the writer to arouse such feelings.

  2. Good read, thank you. Kindle is the best for e(zy)reading, I believe, though they have such strong ownership of all your purchases. And small being beautiful, the new Kindle Paperwhite weighs only 220 grams. This site is a bit of a stretch for me as it requires one to log in – ie. to remember a password, and one has to remember so many of them!

    Susan S

    1. Anne Skyvington Avatar
      Anne Skyvington

      Thanks Susan. Your input re Kindle is welcome. Anne

  3. Kay Dunne Avatar
    Kay Dunne

    Thanks Anne for the guidelines. I particularly like points 2 and 3 in ‘Giving Criticism’, which provide some guidance to what to look for. Great also to have guidelines for receiving feedback, which is less often considered.
    Caution is a good idea, if you don’t like or don’t read a particular genre. Perhaps it’s a matter of making this clear before offering feedback.
    Something I’ve found useful, which can get around some of the sensitivities, is for the writer to indicate what stage the writing is at, e.g., first draft, and/or what aspects she/he would like the ‘critiquers’ to focus on.

    1. Anne Skyvington Avatar
      Anne Skyvington

      Thanks Kay for the comments. All the way from your writing course in Dublin! Do hop;e it’s all going well. Looking forward to reading your novel soon. Anne

  4. Kerry Lown Whalen Avatar
    Kerry Lown Whalen

    The guidelines provided for both giving and receiving criticism are useful. I’m not sure whether criticism should be withheld if one does not like or read a particular genre. Most writers/readers can distance themselves from the subject matter and offer valuable suggestions for improving style or word choice irrespective of the genre.
    I can think of a particular writer who brought her work to the group each week for criticism. She was re-writing Genesis as a love story. The names, places and events were foreign to me, and yet I was swept along by the story and inspired by it. She also wrote horror stories and science fiction, neither of which I read. This writer was dyslexic and appreciated the way I could re-cast her sentences to clarifiy meaning and to swap paragraphs around for greater emphasis.
    Often we know whether the recipient of criticism will be able to accept it. Sometimes suggestions
    can be made in writing on the piece of work rather than orally. This gives the writer an opportunity
    to go home and think about the criticism made by the group. She can then read the written
    suggestions and act on them if she feels inclined.
    Criticism can be excoriating, especially if it is made by someone lacking empathy. Tact and
    kindness should be foremost in a critic’s mind.

    1. Anne Skyvington Avatar
      Anne Skyvington

      Thanks for the comment, Kerry. Always great to hear from you. Anne

    2. Anne Skyvington Avatar
      Anne Skyvington

      Hi Kerry
      I think I replied to this, but as I can’t see it, I’m replying again. Thanks for your feedback. It’s great to have input from other writing groups.

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