If the art of receiving feedback is a skill level akin to a preschooler’s coloring book, then giving feedback is up there with Leonardo da Vinci.
When receiving feedback, first and foremost, all one need do is shut the hell up and listen. In other words, don’t color outside the lines. At face value, this should be somewhat easy. All it takes is focus and self-control.
Once we have our feedback, we then need to decide what to keep and what to toss. Much like deciding if we want to color the grass green or take a risk and paint the rolling hills red.
Giving feedback, on the other hand, is not quite as easy. All too often, we worry about hurting the writer’s feelings. We point out what we love about the story and dance around the elements that didn’t quite work – you know, the important stuff.
Crafting objective input absorbs more of our time. We need to read slower, make notes, think about those notes and adjust if later in the story we come across a conflict pertaining to said notes. Sometimes, we may even need to read the story again, especially if the first read sweeps us away.
Many of us are too busy to put in such effort. It’s much easier to give the writer a cursory, “That was great, I loved it, well done.”
Such notes don’t help anyone and have no place in giving feedback; unless, of course, you truly are a da Vinci level reader analyzing a da Vinci level writer.
My advice to writers who offer to read other writers’ work for the purposes of feedback, stop pointing out what you love and dig into the hard stuff. Take the time to help your friend or colleague. Don’t worry about hurting them. Critical feedback always hurts and frustrates new writers. The good news is, most of them get over it.
I say most as some will hold onto a grudge like a two-year-old clutching its lollypop. If you encounter such people, just take a deep breath and remind yourself that they are kindergarten-level receivers of feedback. In the end, you can’t force them to color between the lines.
The truth is, by avoiding the task of giving strong, thorough notes, you’re actually causing more damage for the writer. You’re not allowing them to grow,.
If you offer to give feedback, invest the time. Not only will your friend become a better writer, so will you. That sounds like a win-win for both sides.
Happy writing everyone!