On Giving and Receiving Feedback

Writing is a personal and introspective process. To share with another what we wrote is to risk. Some of us are more hidden than others, some of us tolerate risk better than others. When you critique someone's work you don't know where on this continuum the writer stands.

In order to offer feedback, one needs to be prepared. First you must respect the writer. He (or she) put his soul into the work and probably cares about it more than he thinks he should.

Secondly, you must respect opinions, tastes and ways of navigating the world that differ from your personal preferences.

This respect for the writer leads to understanding the writer. Now you are ready to offer feedback.

1. First of all, tell the writer what works in her story. What did you like? What moved you, intrigued you, made you think, made you feel? Where does the writer's strengths lie? In description, humor, drama, dialog?

In my 14 years of teaching creative writing, I have noticed that writers grow more from focusing on developing their strengths than trying to fix their weaknesses. This does not mean that we should pretend that writing weaknesses do not exist. When the strengths expand, however, they crowd out the weaknesses. The more one writes, the more one can intuitively fix the writing up as she goes along.

2. Do you feel that something essential is missing? What do you wish was in the story?

3. Technical assistance: Were there parts that you didn't understand?

Try to critique your own work also, following these guidelines.

To receive feedback also takes some preparation. Were you appreciated? Misunderstood? Did they find the one spot that you knew was weak, but you told yourself no one would ever notice? Was the part you loved the best the part they thought should be eliminated? There are two important points to remember:

1. Without honest feedback from others, how will you grow and improve as a writer?

2. Don't give feedback-givers power over your writing, your self image and your emotions. Whether to accept their points and make actual changes based on them, is always Your decision.

If you find that feedback from others discourages you from writing, then stop seeking out feedback.

Esther Susan Heller is the director of The Jewish Writing Institue which offers email courses in writing, including poetry, comedy, creative nonfiction and fiction. She is a freelance editor creative writing teacher and magazine feature writer. Visit her website: http://www.jewishwriting.com/

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