As writers, we like getting feedback on our stories. We’re excited about the worlds and characters we’ve created, and we can’t wait to share them with others. Many of us love reading other people’s works in order to provide feedback and encouragement, but the way we comment can have different affects on them as writers. Now, to determine the best kind of feedback to give, I presented 30 writers with the following questions:
Imagine you gave someone a piece of your writing (a chapter or so). You did not ask them to proofread or edit or critique you work—merely enjoy it, and you get three kinds of responses:
- “Awesome! That was totally neat! LOVED IT! Check out my story here:…”
- “Awesome action! A lot of stuff happening here. It was a bit hard to follow at times since so much was happening. For instance, were there four guards or three? Because I only saw them take down three guards, so what happened to the fourth? Other than that, really epic writing! I chuckled when Rex was shouting at the others, “Stop it! Stop it! You’re shooting the mummies!” “They’re already dead!” “They’re ARTIFACTS!” “Then come out, so we can shoot you without hitting anything else. It’s either you or the dead guys.” “Well, when you put it like that…” That was funny. Can’t wait to read more. And hey, if you’d check out my story, I’d really appreciate it. Would love to hear what you think! Anyway, looking forward to more of your story. Keep writing!”
- “You forgot a period at the end of the sentence ‘He determined this was going to be a very long afternoon’, and you’re missing a word in this sentence, ‘he didn’t dare look up because the bullets were everywhere.’ Also, the action was too fast and unclear a lot of the time.”
Out of the three which would you prefer to receive, and which one would get you to read the individual’s story?
No one chose #1.
2/30 people chose #3 as their preference of feedback.
28/30 people chose #2 as the feedback they would want to receive.
Those who chose #2 said they would be more likely to check out the other person’s story based on the comment they left behind. Although several people said they didn’t like the person plugging in their own story.
Those who chose #3 didn’t say much other than the fact that if they were going to look for a proofreader or so, they’d go to that individual.
However though, the comment examples I used above are imperfect. When I conversed with the 30 volunteers of the experiment, a few of them were torn between #2 and #3. They appreciated the specifics provided in #3, but in the end, if they were choosing to forever receive a single kind of feedback based on those three choices, they preferred #2. However, if given the choice, they really wanted a combination of #2 & #3.
Here is what I’ve determined:
If you’re only reading a chapter at a time or so, as you begin the story, find what you like about it—if anything really catches your attention. Focus on that. If something yanks you out of the story, make mention of it, but in the beginning stages of this procedure, don’t focus on every little error—not yet, at least.
Once you’re established an understanding with the author, and they ask you to give more detailed feedback, that’s when you can start looking for more specifics. Also, the courteous thing to do is to send that kind of feedback privately to the author rather than publicly. Would you like someone to publicly point out all the mistakes you’ve made, or would you rather the issues be handled quietly?
Even when you’ve established such an understanding with the writer, be sure to maintain a balance between the negative feedback and the positive feedback. Too much negativity can be draining and discouraging, and that can be devastating to a writer.
Another to keep in mind when it comes to some structures of sentences, the writer might not heed your advice. Don’t take it personally. Don’t think of them as stupid or a failure. They may very well have a precise purpose for that structure which you, being too close to it and viewing it as an editor, don’t see. Their decision might not work with traditional publishers, but they may be self-publishing, and it will work. All you can do is offer advice but then let them make their own decisions. This takes stress off of you.
In the end, remember, you’re not their editor—not unless you two agreed upon that and the author is likely paying you for your services. Otherwise, it isn’t your responsibility.
Now though, there is the aspect of leaving feedback and requesting someone read your own story. What is the best way to do this? Simple: don’t make the request—at least not at first. Rather, be encouraging to the author, allow for conversation to flourish, and then you may politely request they check out your story. Sometimes there simply won’t be a right time for that. However, if someone is leaving you the gracious comments, the kind thing to do is go and investigate their story without them having to make the request. That way you can leave similar positive feedback, and the two of you can encourage one another and slowly build a relationship where you can help one another grow as writers.
In the experiment someone pointed out to me a few things that I think are important to mention: caps lock & shorter sentences make things sound more malicious than intended. Also, using text writing (‘u’ instead of ‘you’, etc) when leaving comments greatly discredits you as a writer. The author, whose story you’re commenting on, will likely not check out your story or look to you for any editorial feedback because it appears that you are lacking the basic fundamentals of writing. I’m not saying you are lacking those, but you’re giving that impression when you use such writing. If you want to be taken seriously, then write in a more professional manner.
What happens if you read a story that is poorly structured, horribly written, and absolutely confusing? Should you be honest and tell the person? Or should you just smile and nod, “That’s nice…”? Well, put yourself in their shoes. How would you like to be approached if your writing was that horrible? Perhaps you should privately contact the individual and hint at some improvements they need to make. Don’t present them with a long list of errors on the outset because that could be overwhelming and so discouraging they may quit as a writer. You may make note of a few things and ask them if they would like some help to improve their writing. If they say ‘yes’, then you can begin helping them. If they’re not interested, leave them be. However, let me warn you, if they accept your help, then be ready to invest a lot of time and energy in their growth. If you don’t have the desire to invest that in the person, you can always point them in the direction of a writing mentor/coach.
Sometimes though, the story is honestly so horrible, and you don’t have the time to even open a conversation with the writer to help them improve, so what’s the best thing to do? Don’t comment. As the common proverb states, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Of course, it is entirely up to you.
Now though, I asked the participants of the survey a second question, and it was this:
What do those comments tell you about the people who wrote them? (shy, confident, encouraging, intimidating, arrogant, etc)
Here is what they said about each person. Disclaimer: this is not based on a real individual. This is the views of multiple people according to the comments. Remember, in this scenario, only a chapter or so was read like on Wattpad where many others have their stories online too, and the author did not ask for proofreading, editing, or critiquing.
Not as helpful
Wants you to read them but not read you
Didn’t even read
Not sure how to write good review
Not comfortable giving feedback/critique
Not into the story
Excited but not well thought-out
Didn’t pay attention
Eager to help
A bit vague
Not overly critical
Wants what’s best
Praised author with specific details
Looking for something wrong
Quick, to the point
No one is good enough
Determined to give useful info
Didn’t read but rather analyzed
Can’t turn off inner editor
Not encouraging to helpful in the long run
Critical of each error
Now, some of these may be contradictory, but that’s what happens when you get the opinions of 30 different people. However, this is an overarching view of what people think of those individuals behind the such comments.
So, what kind of feedback do you find yourself leaving? And what impression does that kind of feedback give others? Do you like that impression? If not, change the way you comment. Take a moment to make the extra effort, and everyone will benefit.
Why is it important to leave feedback on others’ writing—especially positive feedback? Because that writer might be going through a difficult time in their life, and they’re extremely discouraged, but one kind remark from a stranger can completely change the outlook of their day. If you become acquainted enough with the writer to help them strengthen their weaknesses, it will definitely impact their life—and yours.
There’s enough cruelty out in the world and on the Internet. Why not try to be a bit of kindness for someone today?