How to Give and Receive Writing Feedback

Woman giving positive feedback on computer to man

Between critique groups, contests, and clients, my writing has received its fair share of feedback.

Even with experience, sometimes it’s hard to hear criticism after you put in all that hard work. But the feedback process is essential for writers to learn, grow, and improve.

Today, I’d like to share some of my principles for using critiques to your advantage — while also maintaining your confidence as a writer.

How to Use Writing Feedback to Your Advantage

I belong to two critique groups for fiction writing. I’ve also entered contests and learned how to integrate revision requests from my copywriting clients.

With all these different critiques, here’s what I’ve learned to consider with any feedback on my writing …

  • Is the feedback thoughtful and constructive?

Most of the time, writers genuinely want to help one another grow. However, sometimes you run across someone whose comments are hurtful rather than helpful.

This might mean criticizing the writer and their abilities. It could also mean giving a bad critique for personal reasons, such as envy, personal conflicts, etc.

The latter happened to me once in a fiction writing contest. One of the judges seemed to absolutely hate my book, giving it half the score the other judge gave it.

Sure, fiction writing is subjective, and I accept that not everyone will like my work. However, for reasons unknown, that judge knocked off points for things that were NOT subjective, such as the formatting of my Word doc (even though my formatting was 100% correct!).

They also left no comments, so I had no constructive criticism to explain their low score or help me improve.

Fortunately, the contest added a third judge due to the wide discrepancies in my scores. That person gave me the highest score yet, so I felt happy and validated. However, I admit the low score — however irrelevant — still stung.

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience while looking for helpful feedback on your copywriting but receiving harsh criticism in return. If so, I sympathize.

My best advice is to intentionally focus on the good, helpful critiques. That way, the bad ones will eventually take up less and less mental space.

  • Does the feedback make sense? Was it helpful?

Sometimes feedback hurts not because it’s toxic or negative, but because it’s a blow to the ego to realize we didn’t do as well as we thought we did.

To interpret this feedback honestly, I recommend spending time away from your writing — a week or just one evening, depending on your deadlines — after receiving your critique.

After some time, the critique won’t sting so much and you can objectively improve your writing.

  • Should you make changes or defend your original writing?

Sometimes, this question is surprisingly difficult to answer, especially since everyone has different opinions.

It may help to ask yourself why your reviewer or client suggested a particular change …

For example, is it just a matter of clarity? Would adding a simple sentence of background information make your writing clearer, or does it require a larger fix?

Figuring out what is behind the requested change may help you not only decide whether or not it’s a change worth making, but also help you communicate better with your client.

For copywriting, I do make most changes my clients request, unless there’s a good reason for me to defend my original copy. After all, they are paying me to bring their vision for their company to life.

When in doubt, you can also seek a second — or third, fourth, fifth, etc. — opinion. I’ve received conflicting advice on my work before, which just goes to show that writing is subjective and there’s no one “right answer.” Gathering multiple opinions may help you feel more confident when making a decision.

  • Is there an area of writing where you struggle?

After enough critiques, I noticed patterns about my own writing — including areas that needed improvement.

Thanks to my critique groups, I’m more skilled at looking for those things, so my writing is now even better in my first draft.

Why You’ll Want to Have Critique Partners

During my critique group meetings, I’m always humbled by the skills of my fellow writers.

There are members at all experience levels. But everyone there is an expert on something, and the sum total of everyone’s talents results in better writing for all of us.

Some of the things my groups have helped me with include …

  • Grammar rules.

I’m pretty good with grammar, but the retired schoolteachers who critique my writing always find things I didn’t even know to look for.

Sure, I break these rules for style sometimes — and in copywriting that’s okay — but having a better understanding of the rules has improved my writing and helped me avoid embarrassing mistakes.

  • Eliminating extra words.

Usually by my third draft, I think my copy is pretty good — until my critique partners take a crack at it and find tons of words to cut so my writing is sharper and more impactful.

Having extra sets of eyes on your work can really help with this.

  • Clarity.

As a writer, you have all the background information in your head while you’re writing — especially if you’ve done a lot of research beforehand. Because of this, it’s easy to write in a way that assumes your audience already knows what you know.

Thankfully, critique partners can point out anything that’s unclear.

In addition to critiques on my own work being immensely helpful, I’ve learned a lot by listening to critiques of other writers’ works.

In fact, sometimes I learn even more than I did from feedback on my own writing.

Plus, a writers’ group is a great place for moral support.

Everyone there has experienced rejections, and they can encourage you to keep going.

How to Be a Good Critique Partner

A good rule of thumb is to always treat others the way you would want to be treated. Be kind and helpful.

Additionally, here are some specific tips to follow …

  • Give as much as you receive.

Don’t just go to a critique partner or group for your own work. Spend time thoroughly reviewing the work of others — give them your best efforts.

  • Use constructive criticism.

Always focus on specific things to improve. For example, say, “This didn’t grab my attention and maybe it would be better if you added a startling statistic,” rather than saying, “This isn’t very good.” You could try a Peer Review structure to provide helpful input for improving the copy.

  • Try a compliment sandwich.

List something you like about the work. Then suggest areas for improvement. Then list something else you like.

  • Be specific about what you liked.

This can help someone just as much as talking about what didn’t work for you.

Reviewing the work of other writers can help YOU improve. It introduces you to different writing styles, which can expand your creativity and skills.

How to Find Critique Groups and Partners

A few common places include …

  • Online writing groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, and more.
  • Meetup groups, which used to meet in person locally but now offer meetings through Zoom because of the pandemic.
  • Writing conferences, whether online or in person.
  • Comprehensive training programs, such as Circle of Success and The Confident Copywriter.

It’s okay to try out a few groups until you find one that’s a good match.

While working toward your writing goals, don’t give up! Feedback, while hard to hear at times, is an important part of the process.

Use the feedback to improve — and keep working toward your dreams!

Do you have any questions about how you can get started as a copywriter? Share with us in the comments.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: January 20, 2021

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