Thoughts on… the Importance of Feedback [by Matt Kendrick]

Writing can often be a solitary process. Whether we are scribbling ideas on a notepad in a quaint little coffee shop or frantically hammering towards a word count goal on our half hour lunchbreak, most writers spend a lot of time looking inwards and consulting no one but ourselves on everything from a story’s structure to the minutiae of our word choice. When a lot of what we produce is a labour of love, there can be an (understandable) fear of asking other people what they think. However, I can’t emphasise enough how useful it is to get constructive feedback. A good critique partner (alternatively termed “beta reader”) should be able to highlight exactly what is and isn’t working in your writing and help elevate it to another level.

Finding the right critique partner(s)

Some writers may have a large network of fellow writing friends who they can approach to look at their work. But if, like me, you don’t have such a luxury, there are still many options that you could try. Writing courses are a great place to meet like-minded writers with whom you might put in place a reciprocal arrangement – similarly, writing groups or even book clubs. Asking the question on Twitter or other social media platforms will normally elicit a flood of responses and I have recently set up a small and (hopefully) friendly virtual writing community called “Betas & Bludgers” with the aim of facilitating this.

Whilst you may end up with one critique partner that you trust above all others, it is a good idea to connect with a number of writers who have different strengths. One may be great at pointing out pacing issues. Another might help wheedle out repetitive sentence structures. A pool of writing friends allows you to get different perspectives on the same piece of writing or to get the right feedback that you need for any given occasion. When choosing who you want to work with, be picky. Don’t just settle on the first person that you find if you (a) don’t feel entirely comfortable sending them your work and/or (b) don’t feel that their feedback is helping you improve.

Asking for feedback

The key here is to be as specific as possible. In my critique group, we choose from three different types of feedback. Asking for a “general review” means that we’d like our critique partner to look at the big picture (overall structure, entertainment value, pacing etc.). A “deep dive” encompasses the nitty-gritty of word choice, concision and show vs tell whilst “polishing & proof-reading” is a quick read for spelling and grammar errors on a piece that is close to being finished. If you want to get the most out of the feedback you receive, you might also ask your critique partner to focus on a particular aspect that you’ve had trouble with in writing the piece or on an area of writing that you are currently trying to improve. If you’re in a bit of a slump, you might just want to hear what’s working well in your writing etc.

Giving feedback

If you set up a reciprocal arrangement with another writer, it means that you will be giving feedback as well as receiving it. This in itself can be really useful for improving your craft. Identifying strengths and weaknesses in other people’s work can help you reflect on things that work well or badly in your own.

If you’ve never given feedback on someone else’s writing before, the essence of what you should be looking out for is similar to what you should be focussing on when editing (Lucent Dreaming editor Jonas David has written a great post on that subject here). I would suggest reading through to the end before you start critiquing to get a sense of the piece as a whole. On the second pass, you should then be able to pinpoint what best merits a comment or suggestion. When writing these, bear in mind that most writers suffer from a degree of impostor syndrome. The last thing you should want to do is to dent their confidence. Therefore, consider the following:

  • Highlight what is brilliant so that the writer knows what to keep. There are always positives alongside the things to improve. As I’m from a teaching background, I’d call this way of working “two stars and a wish”.
  • Pose questions rather than stating blunt opinions – i.e. ‘Do you think this is the best adjective choice here? I wondered about …’ This is not only less blunt but should also get the writer reflecting on their work in general.
  • Give suggestions about how to resolve any issues that you identify.
  • Remember that everyone has a different style and writing identity. Be careful not to encroach on this in your critique.
  • Don’t overload the writer. Unless they have very thick skin, too much feedback will probably make them want to crawl up under a rock and cry. For a “deep dive” review, I find that roughly 25 comments per 1000 words is plenty to be getting on with.

Getting the most out of the feedback you receive

This is a skill unto itself. Remember, in the first instance that writing is an art form and people’s responses to it will be highly subjective. When reading your critique partner’s comments, you need to separate out the things that definitely need changing (the spelling/grammar mistakes; the unintended repetitive or wish-washy language etc.) and those that simply need some consideration. You don’t need to take action from every comment but you should at least study each of them. If your critique partner has suggested an alternative word, find a reason why yours is superior. If they have suggested cutting a sentence, come up with an argument why that sentence is essential. If you can’t then it is likely that there is an improvement to be made.

It’s also important to try and learn from every bit of feedback that you receive. I keep a list of things that crop up regularly. This list is pinned to the wall above my desk and is pulled down every time I come to edit a piece of writing. In this way, I am hopefully able to use my critique partners’ feedback to not only improve individual pieces but also to improve my ability to get it right first time.

Additional Thoughts

This blog post has mainly focussed on the benefits of having fellow-writer critique partners. However, it can be just as useful to get non-writing beta readers on board (since they can read from the perspective of the average reader rather than getting hung up on every lurking adverb!) At the other end of the scale, don’t forget about the possibility of getting professional feedback. There are numerous editing and proof-reading services available at various prices but if, like me, that is not something that you can readily afford, there are many literary magazines who offer feedback on submissions. This can be a really useful way of getting a different perspective on your writing.

The Lucent Dreaming team gives feedback on all qualifying submissions.


Lucent Dreaming is an independent creative writing magazine publishing beautiful, imaginative and surreal short stories, poetry and artwork from emerging authors and artists worldwide. Our aim is to encourage creativity and to help writers reach publication! Subscribe to Lucent Dreaming now, support us on Patreon and follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram
Follow guest writer Matt Kendrick on Twitter @MkenWrites. More information on the “Betas & Bludgers” virtual writing group can be found @BBludgers

Related posts

Issue 9 arrives!

Lucent Dreaming issue 9 has arrived at Lucent HQ and we think it’s our best one yet. Subscribe today from only £20 to purchase your

Read More »