Improve Your Writing: Feedback Versus Criticism

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As a writer, you do need proper feedback to improve your writing. However, you don’t need criticism. There’s a difference.

Advice is so vital for writers. We want to know that we’re communicating our thoughts clearly and efficiently. Personally, I have worked with a number of editors over the years and really enjoy their excellent feedback. When done correctly, it helps me grow and expand my abilities.

Yes, I’m still learning. I will always be doing so.

However, some people seem hell-bent on stamping the life out of an author. Unfortunately, artists of many ilk are criticized mercilessly. Sometimes it feels like it is open season on filmmakers, fine painters, etc. It’s tough to endure.

I’ve been quite fortunate to continually be surrounded by positive people, who share their opinion in a supportive way. I always want to know if something I write isn’t up to par, but I prefer not to be crushed in the process.

Feedback should include the good

When I am asked to give a critique on someone’s writing, I always include the good points first. What did I like about the piece? What really worked? There’s always something positive to say. It helps to reinforce their strengths.

I’ve noticed that some people only zero in on the errors, the mistakes, and the missteps. It leaves the author with the impression that their work is no good and it can cause them to quit.

If you receive such an evaluation, try asking, “Was there anything you liked about it?” Some people hold back on the compliments. Maybe that’s because their work was sliced to ribbons when they were starting out and they think that’s appropriate. Maybe it’s for another reason. However, it’s good to help these people break that cycle by getting them to notice and discuss the plusses of your piece to improve your writing.

Recognizing a nasty critic

It’s helpful to be able to spot critical people. They are the ones who love to tear a piece to shreds, leaving very little intact. Their purpose isn’t to improve the writer’s ability to write, but rather to take joy in setting a fledgling author back a few paces.

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Again, these poor souls were probably criticized heavily when they were first starting out. When an artist is stretching their creative wings for the first time, they are in a very vulnerable stage. If their attempts were smashed early on, they may have just given up completely. The harsh critics of today are most likely the failed artists of yesterday. Bitter and filled with unfulfilled goals, they lash out at others.

So, how do you recognize a critic? Pay attention to how you feel after reading their comments. If you feel worthless and want to quit writing, ignore their “advice.” Trust me, they don’t have your best interest at heart.

Mentors vs Critics

So, how do you know if you’re going to be torn apart by razor-sharp teeth or if you might just get a kernel of inspiration that will nudge you forward toward great writing? It’s simply knowing the difference between a mentor and a critic.

Look for the purpose behind the advice. You can often tell if someone is trying to help or hurt by the words they use. Mentors will always point out errors in a way that makes sense and encourages at the same. They recognize every artist starts somewhere. Critics, on the other hand, have no such concern and can be rather harsh in their language.

For instance, nasty critics love to say, “Don’t quit your day job!” Boy, do I hate that invalidating phrase. What benefit does that little nugget offer? We all know we need to put food on the table, but everyone should expand their horizons and reach for the stars! Why not? Besides, if you don’t like your day job, it’s a good idea to work toward changing it, right? I mean, you should do what you enjoy doing in life!

You can also recognize good mentors, because they will read over your work and give you subtle guidance to improve your writing. They won’t overload you with dozens of problems to fix. Rather, they will focus on one common issue, guiding you toward solutions that you can discover on your own.

Take the bad feedback with the good

While encouragement is crucial to a writer’s development, it doesn’t help him or her to only get a lot of pats on the back. If you show your work exclusively to family and friends, they might not want to tell you how they really feel. They care about you and don’t want to hurt your feelings.

When I get feedback along the lines of “It’s good!” it might make me feel good, but I’m looking for more. I’ll ask a few questions like:

Why is it good?

What did you like best?

Was there anything you didn’t care for?

Did you understand everything?

These questions pour out of me.

Of course, it feels great to get rave reviews and hearty pats on the back, but in the end you need to also hear the bad with the good or it isn’t terribly helpful.

Keep in mind that the biggest way you can improve your writing is to write. Yes, that’s basic advice, I know. Any writer’s first words are an experiment in communication. Trial and error, along with research (reading good books) is the best way I know to learn the craft. Surround yourself with supportive people who will encourage you in that direction. If you find that someone’s advice makes you want to stop, just realize that they are probably a critic and find a new advisor!

Laura Sherman (119 Posts)

Laura Sherman, a.k.a. “Laura the Friendly Ghostwriter,” is a professional ghostwriter and author. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction and is happiest when juggling multiple projects. She recently authored “Chess Is Child’s Play” to introduce the next generation to the game of kings and queens. As a parent of three, and one of the top 50 women chess players in the United States, Laura wrote this book to teach any parent to teach any child, of any age, to play chess.