6 Rules A**holes Break when Giving/Receiving Feedback

Hey there guys, I am doing this blog post for two reasons. The first is to provide a way for new people in my writing group to see how ours will work, and the second is to give all of you some ideas for your own. If you are a beta or alpha reader this post might be a useful way to figure out what to look for in the manuscript that you are reading.

1. If your work is being critiqued, do not defend yourself. This is the absolute most important rule of them all. Writing groups exist to help a writer become better, not as a way to earn new fans. If a reader has something negative to say about your work your only response should be some variation of, “Thank you for your feedback,” unless you do not understand what they did not like. At that point, you are asking for clarification not trying to give them a justification.

As the author of a piece, you have complete control over the content. If you do not agree with that guy/gal’s opinion then you do not have to follow his or her advice. A reader is entitled to their opinion, so if they think a character is two-dimensional it will help the author more to figure out why they think that, rather than argue that their writing is awesome.

2. Give descriptions, not prescriptions in regards to feedback. When you are giving feedback, you need to realize that you are not the writer. Even if you are a fantastic writer, this is not your work. You should not tell the author what you would do, because they may not have the same style as you. A reader can describe symptoms of a bad novel, but only the author (or the editor) of that novel is qualified to fix those problems.

It will help more to point out areas that you found were boring, unbelievable, or confusing and tell the author why you thought this way. Once the author knows about their problem areas, then they can figure out how to fix it while keeping it within their own style. That guy/gal might an awesome writer, but that does not mean everyone else’s writing needs to be exactly like his in order to be good.

3. Read it, don’t Edit it. When you first pick up a manuscript, you should not be reading it with the intention of finding every little thing wrong with it. Most work that is in the workshop phase is not going to be perfect. It is much more important to figure out problems with pacing, characterization, and plot in the earlier stages in the revision process than to check for typos, grammar, or fine tuning sentences. Most people are not copyeditors so don’t try to act like one unless that is the specific goal of the revision in question.

The first read should be approached like a reader, not someone who is critiquing. If you find areas that are not working, mark them and move on. Once you have finished the piece and have a feel for the story, write some notes regarding the big stuff, then go back to the areas you flagged and try to figure out why you didn’t get it the first time.

4. Be Courteous to both the Reader and Writer. Feedback is the meat that makes a writer stronger. Feedback shouldn’t be so hard that the writer chokes while swallowing it. Great advice can be lost when it has bad delivery. Maybe some writing actually does stink worse than a steaming pile of crap, but it probably won’t help that much to point it out. Criticism should not be all sunshine and rainbows either. In fact, it will do more damage to pretend nothing is wrong than to be extra harsh. It is always better to get some bad feedback than bad reviews.

Alpha and Beta Readers are often giving feedback for free, or maybe for a trade of services. Either way, they are not getting paid to do it. You should be lenient on deadlines, but if it is obvious that they are not getting around to your piece then you may want to look for someone else. If you are reader, then help out your author and at the bare minimum give them an update every now and then.

5. Don’t skim and act like you read it. I started off writing, “don’t skim when doing an alpha or beta read,” but I changed my mind. It is fine if you skim some areas of the manuscript, but you definitely need to mark the areas you skipped over. When you are talking about the work at the end, it is not fair to say that anything was confusing, because you might have missed the important explanation during the section that you didn’t actually read.

Skimming is a great indication of a boring part of the story, but if that guy/gal acted like they read the whole thing and then said they didn’t understand something, they are hurting the writer more than if they said everything was great. The actual problem was that certain sections were not interesting, but the feedback that guy/gal gave the writer was that they needed to have better clarification. Rather than cutting the boring parts, the writer will add in details to try to make the, “confusing,” part crystal clear. In reality, they added to the problem by creating more boring content.

6. Keep your political/religious/etc. beliefs to yourself. If you are reading a story that is focused on Christian beliefs, but you are atheist, it is not fair to destroy their writing because you do not see the world through the same lens. It takes skill to evaluate prose from an objective viewpoint, so no matter what happens there will always be bias. If you find yourself bashing aspects of the story that in no way relate to plot, character, or setting then you need to politely tell the writer that you no longer wish to give feedback.

I absolutely hate the book Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, not because it is poorly written, but because it is beautifully written. His characters struck a nerve with me that made me upset enough that I had to force myself to finish it. I disagreed with the content of his book, but his writing was incredible.

I am sure that there are plenty of other rules that should be in here, but as for right now, I’m drawing a blank. I hope everyone is having a wonderful time and I look forward to talking to you guys in the comments.

34 thoughts on “6 Rules A**holes Break when Giving/Receiving Feedback

  1. I definitely felt the need to comment on your blog, first blog comment on WordPress (I’m still getting used to this site) woo-hoo!! 😛
    I just had to point out how important the justification section truly is and it’s a huge problem for a lot of people. We always feel like our work is perfect when we’re completely wrong, so when something negative is said about this piece of writing we spent months/years to create it can truly affect how you feel about it and get defensive as quick as possible.
    I’ve been that person to try and justify my actions but then a good friend sat me down and explained to me “He didn’t mean it like that, he meant…” and continued to point out what the person had originally said. Which finally hit me in the face like a pillow case full of oranges and I keep it locked in my head ever since and even to this day:
    “People will always find a way to pick apart something. Not because they truly feel that way but because they feel envy.”

    I will bookmark this and post it on my twitter for everyone else as well. Very well written (except a few words missing like ‘a’ or ‘of’ every now and then) and very explanatory. Thank you, good sir!

    – KhaotikLOL

    twitter.com/khaotiklol

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. I’m new to WordPress and currently working on a site for my books where people can find them easier but I’m paranoid of people stealing ideas and plots (even though they can’t write like I do) until most is done.

        I love Twitter. I prefer Twitter to Facebook most of the time too. Follow me and I’m sure to follow back man.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A writer’s group that I recently was a member of broke a lot of these rules. They told you how they would change the story, and were very opinionated, almost to the point where it was insulting, and some of the members frowned upon self publishing. I’m not against critiquing people’s work, or people criticizing my own, and for the most part, writer’s groups can be helpful. I also found their suggestions sometimes helpful, but mostly confusing. This is a good blog post, and every writer should read it. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I completely understand what you are saying. One of the first writers’ groups that I joined had the exact opposite problem. It seemed that no matter what anyone wrote, everyone loved it. It was like the group was more of a way to build a writer’s confidence than a way to improve their craft. In regards to the self-publishing stuff, I think that some writers need to understand that traditional publishing is not always the appropriate solution for every writer. In the same token, self-publishing is more like a business than just being strictly a writer, so self-publishing isn’t for everyone either. I think problems like that are stem from when a writer believes that their way is the best and everyone else is wrong.

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  3. Quite good advice, especially the bit about the “prescriptive” reviewers guilty of “this is what I would’ve done.” I have to instruct my writing students not to incorporate themselves into another’s work (which has nothing to do with their own at any rate). Instead, we focus on things like willing suspension of disbelief, continuity, research, and voice (which is particularly tricky with college freshmen). Anyway, thank you for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You mean what sorts of problems come up while one’s revising or after? I teach college freshmen and sophomores, and most aren’t particularly well-versed in the craft, so I primarily deal with major issues during (and post) revision stage like inconsistency/continuity problems, incorporating cliches and stereotypes (lack of invention), excessive exposition (lack of that ol’ “showing” rather than “telling”), and…the worst of all…outright plagiarism.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. If it is not too much work, I would love for your insight into both, “common problems during revision,” and, “common problems present after revision.”

        You pretty much answered the problems post revision in your last reply, so thank you so much for that. I am honestly really surprised that there is a large amount of outright plagiarism. Do you think most of it is unintentional, like they didn’t cite something correctly, or is it a deliberate attempt to plagiarize?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I see their work pre-and-post-revision (if it’s done, of course), so the problems I listed are often both. Everything in-between (“during revision”) is simply drafts 2-3, if we get that far in-depth with such rigid time constraints the term permits.

        As for the plagiarism, I see outright deliberate copy-and-paste jobs, coupled with those who have others write for them (or buy essays, stories, and/or research paper online). I also have students who fail to cite correctly in their research papers, but that isn’t necessarily outright plagiarism but a major formatting error. The ones who don’t credit/cite at all are the other plagiarists I often stress over.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I think that this is fascinating and I find that with your status of being a professor, you are in a great resource to give advice to writers who are just starting to take their craft seriously. Would you be interested in writing a guest post for this blog?

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I’d be honored when I’ve a bit of extra time. Just a slight caveat: I’m a composition professor/specialist (grad work in rhetoric and English education) primarily, so while I would certainly be able to assist with skills and write on that, I’m like many who subscribe to your blog in that I’m still learning the ins-and-outs of novel writing and publishing.

        Then again, the day I stop learning the craft is the day I walk away, eh?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes! I totally agree with all of this. I encountered all these problems at some point in my college writing workshops. 😛 One of my professors actually had a rule where the author of a piece was not allowed to speak AT ALL during a critique, and we would all have to refer to them as “the author” and not “you” or by their name. Sounds a bit extreme, but I thought it worked quite well––it always helped me to distance myself from my work and not take criticism personally.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can completely understand why your professor made that rule. We, as writers, have poured hours into the things that we write, and it is hard to hear others criticize what we have worked so hard creating. I think that it is completely natural to want to defend yourself, but in most cases, feedback is a valuable tool to improve a story. If an author is too busy justifying their, “good,” story, it can be difficult to make it great.

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  5. One of the hardest things I had to learn how to do was not try to explain verbally (or in an email) what I was trying to achieve with a specific character or scene after getting an early reader’s feedback. I had to remind myself that they have questions because the writing isn’t clear. Don’t explain it. Take this opportunity to improve the writing.

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    1. I completely agree. I think it is only natural to try to explain a piece of writing to a reader, but I believe that your writing should be able to explain itself. Also how has, “The Fair & Foul,” been doing?

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      1. It’s actually doing better than it would appear on Amazon as I have sold a number of copies myself which of course don’t get reflected in my rankings. However, getting the reviews necessary to be featured in some of the marketing channels I was targeting is taking longer than I originally anticipated, but when they do come in they are still mostly positive, so I’m not complaining.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. We always say at my Writer’s Group that if you can’t sit next to the reader and explain what you meant- your words have to stand on their own. If it needs an explanation, it needs a rewrite. Learning to take criticism is difficult for most of us writers. We’re used to having friends and family read our stuff and think it’s great. Writer’s Group doesn’t have that agenda. Our only agenda is to help you make your work the best it can possibly be… if you want that. I wrote up a list of similar rules for ours as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree that learning to receiving feedback is one of the hardest skills for a writer. I believe that learning that skill is the biggest step someone can take into turning the interest to write into something that can actually earn a living.

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      1. I find it hard when someone is new to writing and feel they need to give the details of the protagonist’s day and it is all telling. Where do you start with the feedback?

        I can spot that there is something wrong but am unsure how to steer them in the right direction. Being new to fiction writing myself, I can’t ‘verbalize’ it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I know exactly what you mean! I do have to admit, I still have the rough draft of the very first novel that I wrote, and it is terrible offender of telling and not showing.

        My feedback generally depends on what the other writer is looking for. If I am doing an alpha read, then I am going to really focus on pacing and characterization, because I believe that those are the most important elements of a story. I will ignore typos, vocabulary, sentence structure, and pretty much with anything that has to deal with the writing and not the story.

        If I am doing a beta read, then I am really focused on specific elements like areas of confusion, boring spots, unbelievability (generally with dialogue), and the emotions that I experience while reading. I will also point out typos, awkward sentences, etc. but I will not try to catch everything.

        In a proofread, I only try to find errors. This could be a typo, grammar, or plot error. (An example would be saying that there is a blizzard and the next day there is no snow on the ground.)

        I believe that readers shouldn’t try to tell a writer how to fix their writing. Usually, I will try to say something like, “I think that Character A does not have much depth, because the only thing I know about them is that they want to save the princess.” I will not tell a writer how they should fix it, or even if they should. I only want to bring the areas that I perceive weak to the writer’s mind and let the writer grow stronger by either fixing it themselves or learning that I am wrong.

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