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10 People Have Given You 10 Different Types of Feedback, Now What? 10 Suggestions
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Tayari Jones talks about what to do after group critique

If you are a member of a writing group, you have to figure out how to sit quietly while a bunch of people say exactly what they think about your work.  It’s hard to be there and take notes with a non-confrontational facial expression while people say, “I wanted to see the mother more!” or “I just didn’t buy the boyfriend.”  Instead of saying, “That’s because he’s not for sale,” you have to say something like “Thank you, everyone, for your critique. It was very helpful.”  And, it turns out, that was the easy part.  Now you have ten copies of your story, marked up with ten people’s opinions.  What to do now?

This is not a blog post on what to do with hurt feelings. It’s a post about how to make your story better now that you have gotten all this input. And remember, even when it’s ouchy, the people in the room took the time to read your work, which is often more than you can ask of family and loved ones.  So buck up, and read on.

1. Do nothing.

For the first day or two, just breathe and try to do other things.  It’s no good to approach your draft when you’re still emotionally buzzing after the workshop experience.

2. Do some affirmation work.

Remind yourself that revision is part of the process.  Remind yourself that you are a writer, not an aspiring writer, not a writer past her prime, not a has been writer, not a lapsed writer, but a WRITER.  Remember how brave it was for you to put your work up for critique in the first place. And remember that the whole point of this is to make your work better.

3. Read a clean draft of your story. 

Print out a fresh copy and read the story all over again.  Use your pen and mark the things that you think need fixing.  Write questions to yourself in the margin, like motivation?.  Don’t try to rewrite anything yet.  Just read it as though it were someone else’s work that you have been asked to critique.

4. Separate the wheat from the chaff. 

In your writing group, there will be people’s whose opinions matter more that others. (I’ll let you decide the criteria. But if there is someone who hates you, do not read her comments.  They’re tainted, even if she’s a good writer.)  Read over these comments and make note of similarities.  Give a simultaneous read of the various marked up drafts.  I spread the pages out of the floor and read all five versions of page one.  On my clean draft, I mark the areas that spelled trouble for all the readers.  Then, on to page two. (If you are working with a longer project, do it chapter by chapter.)

5. Fix the easy stuff first. 

Maybe folks are having trouble with your untagged dialogue.  Okay, tag it.  Transitions are bumpy? Smooth them out.  Anything that you can fix without a lot of thought, go for it.

6. Find the hot spots. 

There may be a single area that caught the attention of all your readers.  This is an obvious sign that something is broke-- go fix it.  BUT, sometimes everyone may have different views on what exactly is wrong.  When this happens, you know that something is wrong with the scene, chapter, etc.  Apparently no knows exactly what the problem is.  Remind yourself what you hoped to accomplish in the scene.  Then, rewrite it with your goal in mind.

7. Decide the tie breakers. 

Let’s say there is an issue in the comments where half the people like it and half don’t.

8. Decide how important it is to you. 

If you believe that this point of view switch is the essence of your vision—by all means, keep it, just as it is.  But if it is something that you are in the middle about, try and figure out how to make it work before you take it out completely.  (If it still not working five drafts down the road, you might have to chuck it.)

9. Write a plan of revision. 

I keep a writing journal where I write down what I plan to accomplish in the next draft.  I try and make it specific and just one draft’s worth of fixing.  This makes the project seem more manageable and less intimidating.

10. Get back to work.

Now, over to you, SheWriters... How do you make the most of group-feedback?

 

* This post was originally published in January 2011.

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Comments
  • Sandie lee

    Great advice =)

     

    Sandie

  • Joni B. Cole

    Hi SheWriters--My book "Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive" is all about how to make the most of the feedback process and workshops. ("I can't imagine a better guide to [feedback's] rewards and perils than this fine book." American Book Review) It's a fast funny read on this exact topic. Info www:toxicfeedback.com or find reviews on Amazon. If anyone wants a review copy, contact me at Joni.cole@alum.dartmouth.org

  • Anjuelle Floyd

    Thanks so much Tayari, for this wonderful article. I have just Tweeted it.

    The essence of writing is REVISION.

    And the essence of revision is knowing what is working and what is not working.

    The essence of writing and doing it well is always striving to be a better writer this morning and today, than we were the previous night and yesterday.

    For better or for worse, critique and those who offer their criticisms fuel us to do that. The other option is to stop writing. And maybe that is what some people do.

    For those of us who continue writing despite the criticisms launched at our work, we grow. We learn to persevere. We also develop a critical eye towards what we write. We grow a brain or rather a consciousness about our work emerges, an inner knowing that tells us that nothing we write, no matter how much we love it, comes out of our heads and onto the page needing no revision.

     

    Critique and writing group participants that share their honest opinions about our work teach us that we must work for, earn, a reader's money and more importantly the time they invest in reading what we have written.

    Not every person who critiques our work does so from a place of supporting us in becoming a successful writer.

    To be sure many will tear into our work while at the same time feeling envy that they have not written a story that causes them to react in the same way and with as much verve as they have responded to yours.

    The worst possible critique any writer can receive from anyone is no response at all.

    And so it is with this in mind that true and determined writers press on.

    Eventually you will find those friends who can give honest feed back despite being your friend.

    But they do this not because they are our friends. They do it because we have shown them that we want to know what is not working, what they did not like. Through developing a consciousness about our writing, one that

  • These are excellent tips, especially now that I have a critique partner. When I was going to a lot of workshops, I could have used this advice, especially the do nothing. The comments here are great too. Thanks.

  • Joanne C. Hillhouse

    I try not to put it out there before it's had a chance to settle into its own skin so that it's not pulled and tugged in different directions and doesn't know who it is anymore. So, I try to shut out the voices early on...and when both I and the work feel ready, feel our strongest, step out.

    Once I've stepped out I try, try to take in all responses, even the unsolicited ones...

    I process by putting the critique down for a bit (a few days, more if I need it) until I can come at it not as a mom protecting her baby but as a toughlove!mother determined to turn this child into something. I try to have some emotional distance from what's being said, is my point, and then look at it and do my best to honestly consider it.

    It's still never easy but I do my best not to shy away from it or be defensive about it or alternatively having a knee jerk reaction that sees me changing everything without a gut check ...it can get confusing which is why I try to put some time and distance...

    It helps to remind myself that informed critiques from knowledgeable readers whom I trust and who have the ability to be sensitive but honest has helped my work grow in the past.

    Great post; thanks for sharing.

  • Maggie Secara

    I am much more comfortable with my online group, where I don't have to sit through anything, and they can't see me react. And I can yell at them without getting in trouble. Then email by email, I can work through the notes, have e-conversations with them individually, or say thank you very sweetly (and mean it) and ignore them.

  • Anahita New

    This is really helpful advice when you are starting to go public with your work. I remember my first group feedback. I was so nervous. Luckily, they all offered to read my poems out for me, which I gladly accepted. I didn't take in much of what was said at the meeting, but it was great as a 'first' for me - so I would go and do it again.

  • Teresa K. Thorne

    Kelly, a great post!  Thank you.

  • After a few years of participating in critique groups all around the US and in Poland and Mexico, I've had both transcendental feedback that has forever changed my writing and comments from the clueless that have haunted me for days.  Yikes!  Here's what I've learned:

    1.  Good writers aren't always good critiquers.

    2.  ASK FOR THE FEEDBACK THAT WOULD BE MOST HELPFUL TO ME.  Often before I begin, I ask for 3 specific aspects I'd like critiqued (e.g., do the 2 narratives connect?  are the transitions clear?  does the tense shift make sense?).  Sometimes, I even hand out a short questionnaire eliciting specific feedback.

    3.  STOP critique that isn't helpful.  There was once a guy in a group who did nothing more than circle anytime the verb "to be" was used.  Since that wasn't a writing tic of mine, I found his red circles particularly annoying.  So I asked the group (ahem, him) to focus on the narrtive arc in the chapter, not on grammar.  When I caught him circling "they were" on my draft, I literally stopped my reading and jovially reminded him that grammar notes were not helpful to me at this stage.  Freed from that "responsibility," he ended up giving me one of the most useful critiques I've received!

    4.  Determine how people see the world.  Feedback becomes more valuable when I understand who's giving it.  For example, she always notices characters' motivations -- aha, she's a therapist!  He always comments on archtypes.  She can only see content, not writing.  I have something to learn from everyone, and understanding each person's particular "expertise" helps me value their comments more.

    5.  Listen to my own critique of other's work.  Often, what I see needs fixing in their work is exactly what I need fixing in my own....

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

    <p>www.PeacePATHFoundation.org</p>

  • Kristi Holmes Espineira

    This is great advice, and timely as I have a chapter being workshopped this week!

  • Teresa K. Thorne

    A good post.  The best advice is to give it some distance.  My first reaction is usually defensive.  (I've gotten better though...really!)  However, I usually find that if I can figure out what the problem is, the manuscript is almost always improved.  Figuring out the problem isn't always easy, but it is a worthwhile endeavor!

  • Danica Davidson

    Thank you for this.  What can be hard for me is differentiating between one person's opinion and if there really is something that needs to be fixed.  Usually if the more people say the same thing, the more I go with it. Any thoughts, Tayari?

  • Patricia A. McGoldrick

    What a positive perspective on the group process!

    I, especially like the one about sitting back and waiting a bit before making major decisions about changes or staying with the original.

    Smaller groups work for me. The bigger the group, the harder it is for me to respond.

    Patricia

    PM_Poet Writer blog

  • RYCJ Writing

    For just about everything listed here, is why I don't solicit group-feedback on unpublished work. And afterwards I tread lightly around this area. I mean man, as listed here, and along with all the feedback and reviews I've read over time on various work...there are lots of opinions that could have a writer, especially a novice, running in circles.

    And yes, good feedback!

  • Brooke Linville

    Great advice! 

    I, too, usually have an idea of whose feedback I trust the most.  Are they in my target reader group?  What kind of a writer are they?  When critiquing others, are they reluctant to give others critical feedback? 

    I often get my critiques via online groups or courses, so I usually create a Word document with all the feedback per chapter so I can sort through it more easily.