Saturday, September 17, 2016

Giving Feedback to a Writer

Almost every writer I know has at one time or another thrown some writing out in social media or a critique group and asked for feedback. Most of the time, it’s a useful exercise and very helpful to the writer.

Occasionally, the scenario goes like this:
I write:
It was a dark and stormy night.
Now I wait anxiously for feedback to my masterpiece.

The first one comes from my friend known as the Red Baron.
This is better: Clouds roiled through the darkness and lightning slashed the skies.
Hmm, I think. That sounds pretty dramatic and if I’m honest, much better than what I wrote. Still, it’s not “me”, not what I wrote. So while I like what the Red Baron sent me, I’m uncomfortable.

I get another response from my friend, Snoopy.
I like what you wrote, but there’s a lot of telling. Show me how the night was dark and stormy in your own words. Use your five senses – what sounds do you hear? What do you see? How do you feel?
Right away, I feel better. Snoopy’s response gives me some ideas in how to rewrite the line myself and improve it. I think a bit, then go ahead and rewrite it myself in my own words and style.

I was drenched by the pouring rain. Lightning lit the path in front of me as the sound of thunder made me jump.
I study what I wrote and compare it to the Red Baron’s suggestion. Not quite the same, but the second one is ‘Me’. I’m not only happy with what I’ve written, but I also learned something about the craft of writing in the process.

I understand that these are very simplistic examples of giving feedback. I can also sympathize with those who don’t want to spend precious time writing out how to do something when it can be much easier to write it oneself.

The definition of feedback (from the Merriam-Webster dictionary) is helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc. If someone just writes it themselves rather than helping the author, I think that the feedback is no more helpful than just replying ‘Good job’ or ‘Needs work.'

Feedback is the opportunity for a teaching moment, a chance to help a fellow writer improve their craft. Just imagine if your editor didn’t just correct your writing, but rewrote your novel. You would be irate. As an editor, I’ve made suggestions for different wording in places, but I strongly believe that to do anything further without trying to work with the author and teach them to write it in their own style is not editing but ghostwriting.

Of course, it is always the writer’s prerogative to opt not to make the changes you’ve suggested. But isn’t that better than that writer taking your writing example and putting it in their manuscript?

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin