Many, many writers are desperately searching for feedback on their work.
And rightfully so. Constructive criticism boosts confidence and helps writers set goals for improvement.
But not every writer wants (or needs) specific feedback on their work from strangers.
We’ve all come to assume everyone wants/needs criticism. And to be clear, there are many writers, especially beginners, who feel they need feedback on their work to grow and develop their writing skills. There are certain writers who do need feedback, and that’s OK.
But there are many writers who have been doing this for a decade or more, who have told dozens of stories, many who have even worked with professional editors. They’re not necessarily seeking out input from strangers. They’re just out here trying to tell stories and make a living.
Sometimes we set out to tell a story because we can’t escape its call. It’s not always necessary to tell us everything we could have done better. And it’s not always necessary to hear someone else say you can keep writing before you keep writing. Feedback is nice. But not every time, all the time.
It’s great to hear praise from readers and how a writer’s work impacted them. Tagging a writer in your negative feedback, however, is one of those unwritten taboos many actively choose to ignore … for some reason.
Most people aren’t trained on how to give helpful criticism. As an editor, I’ve gone through numerous training “boot camps” that taught us specifically how to give balanced, honest, and helpful feedback to writers whose stories we were working on. It’s not hard … but it’s a little more involved than simply leaving a comment on Twitter containing 140 characters about how you would have written it differently.
You can’t always trust the feedback you get from strangers, and you certainly shouldn’t take it personally or even too seriously most of the time. The best feedback a writer can get is from someone who is genuinely invested in the long-term success of a story, and if you’re lucky, the writer attached to that story.
If you want feedback on your writing … as for it. There’s really no shame in doing that. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get the feedback you’re hoping for, but there’s nothing wrong with clearly stating that’s what you’re after.
But it’s always better to be clear about whether or not you’re looking for feedback. There are going to be people who dump unsolicited (often unkind or condescending) feedback onto you anyway — there’s no avoiding that. But there are people out there who will offer some constructive criticism if you put out a general call for it. (Though if you’re looking for in-depth edits, please hire someone.)
There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re reading someone else’s work and feel tempted to respond to it with what you perceive to be helpful commentary.
If you see a writer post something, read it, and just for whatever reason don’t like it … it’s OK to close the tab and move on. You don’t always need to tell someone you don’t like their work. It’s OK to keep your opinions to yourself sometimes.
If you disagree with a writer’s statements, you’re more than free and welcome to express that. But don’t attack the writer or their writing. Approach the argument from the subject matter itself. Open a civil discussion. It’s not hard. You can do it.
If you want to alert them to an error in their work (a miscommunicated fact, etc.), please do. Kindly. Mistakes happen.
If you just want to tell them everything you think they’ve done wrong to make yourself feel better and you’re not their editor … don’t.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.