If you’ve joined a writing group, chances are that you want ideas on how to make your writing better.
When I first sat down to blog about writing group feedback, I hadn’t thought of it as a controversial area. Yet after my last post, I received a lot of comments from writers concerned that constructive feedback might be taken as “negative” feedback.
My definition of “positive” feedback includes anything that contributes to improving our writing. That includes comments pointing out:
- where the story goes off-track
- where the characters might do or say something in a more effective way to advance the story
- how to improve grammar, spelling, or punctuation.
In short, all ideas and suggestions about making a manuscript stronger or more effective can be considered positive, constructive feedback.
Writing group members most often present these ideas in an honest and respectful way. Yet damaging or even “toxic” feedback sessions do happen. In more than 20 years of writing group participation, it’s happened to me twice. Over the years, I’ve spoken to other writers who’ve had at least one such experience, and a few who have left groups because of it. (For ideas on how to handle it, see “Writing Groups: Handling Negative Feedback.”)
Here are some thoughts about how to promote the positive, based on my experiences:
1) Choose a group with members that mesh well in terms of goals and ability, including writers at a similar writing level or with similar expectations. Some groups start naturally after writing classes, and some start because a particular writer puts out a call to others to join. Many groups will allow prospective members to attend a few meetings to decide. Some request a writing sample and decide without ever meeting the writer in person. Some add members only by invitation. However they start, communication and respect are key features in any group’s success.
2) Give honest and direct critiques that point out where a piece needs work, and make suggestions for improvement. (For ideas about this, see “Writing Groups: Ideas for Feedback.”)
3) Lay the groundwork carefully. Have a group discussion about each writer’s goals, and what each would like to see addressed in critiques. Develop an agreement – even a written agreement – about how critiques should be presented, and go over these ideas with new members as they join the group. If you’re a new member, ask about how critiques are handled in the group so you’re aware of expectations.
Groups with a solid foundation offer a valuable experience for all writer-members. If you’re in a writing group, how did you come to an understanding about critiques within your group? Do you have an informal understanding, or a written set of guidelines? (Please click “Read more” below and leave a comment.)