Giving and Receiving Feedback on Writers' Work

One of the most important tasks for our group is the giving and receiving of feedback for our work. Bardstown Writers have created their own guidelines to ensure fairness, sensitivity and respect underpin any critique of work.

1.  Before reading their work, the writer should state what they are specifically looking for in respect of feedback – e.g. if they have written in the first person – does this work for the reader?  It may be helpful to prepare some questions for those giving feedback,  e.g. ‘were there any parts that were unclear/extraneous/inconsistent? And specifically for fiction: were there any characters who were unbelievable? Any likeable/dislikeable characters, and if so, why? Any characters who added nothing to the story?

Gut reactions to the work are valuable – did you like the piece or not?  Were you hooked by the first few sentences and if not, why not? What do you believe the story is about? Did you want to read on after the first page? Did you get bored and if so, when? Is the dialogue realistic, believable?  Asking questions allows less experienced group members to take part without being ‘critical’.  It is also often very useful for the writer in appreciating the clarity (or lack of it) of their work.

2. If writers wish to send their work by email to the group between meetings for email feedback, then people giving feedback should respond ONLY to the writer and not to the whole mailing list, unless specifically requested by the group member. However, it may be preferable for the feedback to be given at the next meeting instead. It is sometimes easy to misunderstand comments made in an email and may be easier to express sensitively in person.

3.   Feedback is voluntary – group members do not have to offer it. It is, however, one of the most useful aspects of belonging to a writers' group and those expecting to hear others’ reactions to their work may wish to offer feedback in their turn.

4.   Feedback should be given sensitively and constructively and highlight both the positive aspects and where the work could be improved or is inconsistent. The feedback should be limited to two or three positive/improving points for each piece and care should be taken to do that in a positive way, e.g, stating ‘each new chapter should move the story on’ rather than ‘the first four chapters don’t tell us anything’.

5.   It is useful if members point out any technical errors either with detail in the story or with the pace, language, back-story, PoV (point of view) etc.

6.  The person receiving the feedback, should remain silent until the end, when they can answer any questions asked, but not try to justify why their opinions differ. 

7. There should be a time limit for each piece of work read (no more than 15 minutes). However, it is possible at the beginning of the evening to negotiate for more time. As a group we can be flexible.

8. A writer's work does not have to be read by the person who created it. If they prefer someone else to read it for them as long as there is a volunteer to do this, it is perfectly acceptable.

9. Giving feedback is difficult for many people – it does not need to be clever or demonstrate the skills of the person giving the critique, it is about the writer’s work only.

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