Finding your way in the dark: 4 lessons in writing feedback.

Sometimes writing can feel like a stumble through the shadows...

You take your truths, your stories and you weave them into word--words you hope will reach across continents, culture, time.  And deliver your message, your meaning to someone you may never meet, speak to or hear from.

We spend so much time in solitude, walking an unfamiliar landscape with little light to guide us.   

We may write and read alone.   But we do it to connect with other people.   

And when we travel too long without answer or feedback, we wonder where we are going...

And we ask ourselves:

  • Will anyone understand this?
  • Did I make my point?
  • Does anyone care?
  • Is my voice strong enough to carry my message?
  • Am I evolving as a writer...or just moving in circles, making the same missteps again and again?
 How to find the writing feedback you need to guide your writing: hint, first find your writing companions.

How to find the writing feedback you need to guide your writing: hint, first find your writing companions.

 

So when someone answers back, tells you they've heard you, listened to your story. Understood.  

That answer to your writing--that feedback is, first and foremost,  a guiding beacon

  • Telling you the way to go, the path to choose,
  • Giving you a reason to move forward.

Four lessons in writing feedback:

You know writing on your own is a must and why it's not always enough.

In my experience, confidence in your writing and your voice comes from real, effective feedback--the kind that lights your path as a writer is rather rare.

But here's my advice:

Start by knowing what you're looking for. 

And who knows? You may be able to steer another writer or story-teller in the darkness someday too. 

Because providing feedback on writing is not only an art you can understand and master, it's a skill that will make you a better writer.

There are only 4 things you need to keep in mind...

 

One: Find the right feedback, find the right person.

Notice I say a person and not...an app.  

When you are stumbling through the dark, searching your soul, I'm not sure an app is your best side-kick. (Unless you can find one with a really great sense of humor.)

I'm not saying you can't improve your accuracy (your punctuation, grammar etc) with an app. 

But we both know your writing is not the sum of your errors, don't we?

  • Does the app know what you're talking about?
  • Does it know why it's so important for you to get your ideas across?
  • Can it hear your voice?  

Writing is a connection between two human beings.  

And great writers keep that connection in mind--they remember the who they're reaching out to.

And that's a lot easier when you can meet your 'audience' for a cup of jasmine tea and ask her what she thinks.  (Can I just say, I miss my in-person writing group!)

 We read and write alone, but we do it to connect to others. So find a real person to give you writing feedback. 

We read and write alone, but we do it to connect to others. So find a real person to give you writing feedback. 

 

Two: Want great feedback on your writing? Give permission to encourage... and critique.

A lot of us write online--and get feedback of sorts.  We share our writing on our blogs, on Medium, Facebook.  And people will leave you comments, respond to what you've said, 'like' your work or even 'clap.'  

But how often do you ever see a comment that points out moments where the writing was flat, awkward or somehow not in the right tone? 

Have you ever seen anyone give specific advice on how a writer could improve? 

Personally, I read a lot of online writing, and I've done a lot of writing feedback. But you'll rarely see me make suggestions for improvement in public comments. And won't see me point out errors.

I can't do it. 

I have a hard time believing it's just me either. Honestly, do you ever slip someone a note in the comments about how they could improve their writing?   

And the same is true when you share your writing with a friend or family member and just ask, "What do you think?"

Unless you specifically say you want help with some aspect of your writing, your friends and family are likely to give you some well-meaning validation and encouragement--which is not all bad...

Encouragement will help you keep going, keep doing the necessary work of writing. 

But encouragement on its own won't point out ways you can improve: those little changes you could make to bring out your voice, to make your message more compelling.  

Encouragement can't show you your path in the dark.

 

 If you want writing feedback that will really guide you, make sure you give the person reading your work permission to tell you what to change.

If you want writing feedback that will really guide you, make sure you give the person reading your work permission to tell you what to change.

Third: The best writing feedback comes from someone you trust.

You'll have more faith in the feedback of someone you trust.  And you'll be more likely to listen to what that person says and use it to improve your writing.

And I don't just mean someone you trust to be a good writer themselves.  Or simply whose writing you respect.  Yes, that's fundamental, but it's not enough.

Finding someone you trust to give you writing feedback means finding someone who knows you

Someone who...

  • takes the time to understand your writing goals,
  • cares about what you have to say--your ideas--and not just how you say it, 
  • gets to know your writing over a period of time, to better pinpoint ways you can improve--and see the improvement when it happens!
  • is focused on helping your rewrite, revise and improve in connection with your goals--not just on finding all of your errors. 

Writing feedback revolves around relationships--that are built over time and with understanding. 

And take it from me, it helps a lot when you feel understood by the people reading your work.   

After all, how can someone show you your path if they don't know where you're going?

 Psst: want a little writing inspiration?  Sign up for the short story series here.   

Psst: want a little writing inspiration? Sign up for the short story series here.  

 

Four: Find writing feedback focused on your work in progress...

Look, I think we've all had the experience (think University) where someone reads your paper (or story) and tells you why it was good enough...or wasn't.  Then they give you a grade. The. End. 

And yes, that's a kind of feedback too. It tells you how 'good' someone thinks your writing is right now,  and as is. 

And it leaves you alone, in the dark with no clue how to move forward on your journey. 

And I bet you have your own story... 

My point is. You don't just need someone to point out all your errors, or tell you whether you've 'succeeded' or 'failed.' 

You need someone to tell you what you can do specifically.  To show you the path toward your goal.  To let you know you'll be able to get there.   

And maybe you need to show that person your final draft too--just to see if you've 'nailed it!'

 

Maybe you'd like a guide on this leg of your journey?

Personally, I love that solitary journey over strange territory that is writing.  I yearn for it.

But there are also times when I feel like taking a break from trekking alone.  Times when I've...

  • Taken a creative writing course
  • Done a writing internship
  • Met with with a writers' group to give and get regular writing feedback

Maybe it's time you took a break from your solitary travels too?

 

So what do you think? 

Are you more of a solo traveler when it comes to writing? 

How do you deal with frustration and getting 'stuck' on your own?

How do you push yourself to improve your writing?

Is there someone you've exchanged writing with in the past? 

Is there someone out there you could share your writing with now? 

Leave your comments below or join the conversation at the Vagabond English Book Club.