Getting Feedback Is Hard. Here’s How to Make It Easier

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

If I ate a donut for every time I’d heard someone tell me how important getting feedback is for writers and other professionals, I’d look a lot like Violet in Willy Wonka, minus the blue. Just acknowledge my rotundness and roll me out the door already.

I think most writers understand that feedback enables them to improve their drafts and storytelling. They’ve heard all of the advice about going to writer’s groups, finding beta readers, etc., and hiring a great editor. But as I wrote my most recent novel, I found that, for whatever reason, getting responses to feedback requests seemed much harder than usual. If you’re in a position where all you hear is crickets, here’s what to do.

1. Change your feedback channel.

Sometimes people in specific groups that provide feedback get overwhelmed. They just need a break from the usual routine or pace. There are tons of different platforms and communities online, however, so if one seems quiet, just ping another.

2. Get more specific about the feedback you need.

I’ve made the mistake myself of just throwing out a generic request (e.g., “If anyone wants to read Random Piece A…”). Subsequently, I’ve learned to get more specific so people have a more concrete sense of the commitment and how they can help. Saying “I’m looking for someone to read about 1,000 words and assess it for pacing” or “I’m struggling with clarity here. How would you reword this?” is better than saying “Can you read this and let me know what you think?” It’s ideal if you can get across what you want to improve and have a willingness to take action on whatever feedback might happen.

3. Propose a trade or freebie.

Some people will read and critique just because they find it fun. But it’s human nature to look for reciprocity. What can you offer to people that would let them know you’re grateful and value their time? Perhaps you could read something of theirs, give them a download, or even do some online research for something they’re interested in writing.

4. Share changes based on the feedback.

Tied to point 2 above, people won’t want to give you feedback on your drafts if they don’t think you’re taking them to heart. Once you’ve tweaked your manuscript, go ahead and send them some samples of what you did. Alternately, just get back to them generally about how their tips and insights helped. People like to feel helpful and influential, but that only happens if you’re willing to show their direct link to your growth and development. Your communication can be private, but a public thank you that explains their role is superb as well because it makes them and their expertise visible. Just about everyone will appreciate that free exposure.

5. Abandon your niche.

Many writers assume that only writers can give good feedback on writing. This simply is not true if you are looking for insights about your basic tone, presentation, or flow. Almost everyone can tell you if something was confusing or rubbed them the wrong way. Not only that, but “outsiders” may have valuable perspectives you wouldn’t get if you stuck to writers. They have other experience that might make them see your draft differently. So consider looking outside of your normal writing communities.

6. Do some comparison.

What would make a draft “good” to you? What does the piece need to do, sound like, or convey? Make a list of the criteria your piece should have to be solid. You can use the work of others that you like or thought was effective as a guide here. Then compare your piece to the list. Are you hitting all the criteria you set? Look for specific word choices, imagery, writing conventions, sources, etc. If not, how could you work them into the draft naturally?

7. Leave the draft alone.

Even though outside feedback is what most writers look for, if you hear crickets after all of the above points, set the draft aside if you can. Coming back to the manuscript later almost always will give you fresh eyes on what you wrote, and time can increase your objectivity by allowing initial emotions about the writing to cool.