When we read a short story or article, in most cases, we have an expectation. We want to be informed, maybe escape into another world, made to think and feel and, be entertained. We want to be left with a feeling of satisfaction and curiosity, wanting more. We all enjoy different styles of writing, we admire the work of different authors and we are easily bored, irritated or disinterested if what we are reading does not fit our internal criteria or moral framework. It is therefore important for new writers to recognise that not everyone will appreciate your words, some will find them unrelatable whilst others will thoroughly enjoy what you have written.
In a writing group such as Untold Stories, there is a wide range of participants. There are various levels of experience and ability. We are a diverse group from all corners of the earth and for many, English is a second or third language.
Some of our members choose to see their writing published on the website whilst others prefer to keep their work private for various reasons. Some like to read the published stories and a few like to provide feedback and comments to the author. For most authors, feedback is welcome albeit sometimes a little hard to take. However, feedback is important as it helps us to develop our storytelling skills, refine our editing processes and assists us to be less subjective about our words.
A few members have told me how difficult it is to provide feedback as they do not want to put people off and they do not feel qualified to comment and prefer to say nothing. It is well documented that a lot of writing groups or writing circles find the subject of feedback one of the most difficult to master. Many participants report choosing kind, generic words of praise, not to cause upset or disappointment to the author.
The following is a very simple guide for giving feedback. It can be used to formulate a few words and sentences that the author will find useful.
- Honesty is the best policy. Like watching a film or reading a book and making a recommendation to a friend. Stating if you enjoyed it or it was something you did not find engaging whilst recognising that this might be solely down to personal taste.
- If possible, try to read the story a couple of times. The first time to get the feel for the piece. See what impression it leaves you with. The second time is useful to evaluate the flow, structure and story-telling. Are there gaps? Are the characters believable? Does the story have clarity? Do the grammar and punctuation help or hinder?
- If the story is not engaging, try to think about why you feel disengaged, why does it not hold your interest? Is it the plot, the characters or the use of exposition i.e. too much or too little explanation or detail?
- What are the positives? Which elements did you enjoy or relate to? Maybe in your feedback, you can start with the positives.
- The way you phrase your feedback is key to effective critique. Couch your words in a positive way. There is a method of giving criticism known as the feedback sandwich. This comprises of starting with something positive you liked, followed by well-worded criticism, finished off by reiterating the positive.
- Finally, remember that all pieces of writing have something going for them. Think if it needs to be said, do not bring personality or ethical beliefs into your criticism and recognise that for the budding writer, it takes guts to expose your thoughts, your words and your writing abilities to your peers.
Receiving feedback can be both a positive and negative experience. After putting many hours into writing and editing your story, you will have a lot of emotional and intellectual energy invested in it. None of us likes to think our writing is not up to much. To publish your writing as an amateur can be nerve-wracking or exhilarating. On the one hand, you can lack confidence and be overly concerned that you are going to look foolish or that readers might ridicule your efforts or on the other hand you might be feeling confident and proud of your work and believe it is worth wider distribution. Most of us have mixed feelings somewhere along the spectrum.
One thing I have learnt after many years of writing for pleasure is that if you are happy about your work you should be confident in the knowledge that some will like it whilst others will not. Writing is exactly like developing a recipe. You take a combination of ingredients and put them together in a particular way, refine them and share it with others. Some will love it and some will hate it but the writer just keeps writing more, trying new things, always evolving new ideas to satisfy those that are curious enough to read them.
If you receive feedback, take it, evaluate it, accept it or not and learn from it. Feedback can be a valuable tool for fine-tuning your approach to story-telling. It might also help you to gain confidence and take more risks with new ideas. You might completely disagree with the feedback and that is your right but remember it is given in good faith and it is just one person’s opinion.
Before publishing your story, it is useful if you can read through it aloud, this is an excellent way of evaluating its flow and rhythm. Maybe get a trusted friend or family member to read it and make suggestions. Like any other skill, writing takes practice. The more your write, the better you will become. The stories we write that never make it into the public domain are also useful reminders that our biggest critic is ourselves. We know when something hits the mark or not. Trust your instincts and that gut feeling but most of all have the confidence to try.
I hope that with time you will contribute not only your stories but also your feedback. It is the only way we can grow as a group. Here are a few links on insights into writing by a few very well know authors:
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