The art of giving feedback


Feedback can be fraught but it needn't be.

As writers, surrounding ourselves with just the right team is vital to creating the conditions necessary to find and maintain flow. It's as important as 'showing up' to our desks regularly, as important as sitting with uncertainty, as important as not ditching any ideas because they're 'silly'.

I've heard people suggest we need to grow 'thick skins' to receive feedback and yet great writers are sensitive souls.

I've seen otherwise educated people scrawl on manuscripts in red pen, adopting a heavy-handed approach from the first letter.

I've received feedback loaded with references to the readers' own manuscript, not my own.

I've seen delete-lines through text without any explanation.

I've heard people say they're crap at delivering feedback and then plough on in this vein.

As writers, communicators, people who live in the world, we can do better than this. In my humble opinion, the art of giving feedback is simple:

  • Engage deeply

Don't offer to read and comment unless you're curious about the work for it's own sake. Care about the story. Check your own motivation at the door — metaphorical or otherwise.

  • Listen to the author's intentions

Whether or not you've been given a synopsis, have talked for hours with the writer about her work or are reading afresh, approach the work knowing that this author has spent hundreds of hours pondering the ideas, the story, the sentences, and try to understand and base comments on the author's intentions.

  • Aim to improve the work

Focus on the story, not the writer.  Feedback is always, always about the work.

Giving feedback is a skill to be learnt, an art to be crafted. Effective, useful feedback requires an understanding of yourself — buttons easily pressed, strongly held biases, special whims, attitudes towards trends, how envy might effect the reading and comments. It requires honesty, but honesty alone will not do. Honesty is best served with humility and courage.


As always, please add to the conversation through the comments section. (All feedback welcome. Ahhh, yes!) Next blog — the art of feedback: receiving.

May your words pour onto the page,