Your writing partner has asked for some feedback on her novel.  Now what?

The Three P’s: Purpose, Plan, and Process

The Three P's of providing feedback will help you provide feedback that your writing colleauges can actually use.

Know Your Purpose

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Photo by Zhu Liang / Unsplash

Grounding yourself with the purpose of your feedback helps keep you productively focused. Clarity of purpose should be your starting point before you even start reading or listening to a written work. It will guide your attention and ensure you are more likely to help than harm your writing partner. In other words: Are you giving tough feedback to someone who can benefit from it or shattering a new writer’s confidence?  Are you there to help a new writer feel heard, or are you working with someone half-way down the path to develop their craft? Are you looking down in the weeds or at the big picture? Asking the writer what they want from you at the beginning of the feedback process is the best way to guide your efforts.

Make a Plan

Creative Writing Feedback Planning Tool Page 1 of 2 / Novel Narrative

Sitting down to provide feedback can mean different things to different people on different days. We are all busy and distracted, and having a targeted agenda can make sure we stick to our goals. Once you have your purpose in mind, it can help to have a written plan of attack that will allow you to focus your efforts and make sure you don’t forget to cover all the ground you intended.  This plan can take the form of a simple to-do list or a more formal planning tool like the one shown above and below.

You can get it here:  Creative Writing Feedback Planning Tool

Your plan should include the purpose of the feedback you are giving and critical areas you will be addressing, such as emotional reactions, story structure, craft, or editing. For long-term projects, keep each feedback sitting’s planning tool. Collectively, they can provide a historical record of the feedback supplied over time, which can help identify areas of feedback yet to be covered, or recurring problem spots.

Creative Writing Feedback Planning Tool Page 2 of 2 / Novel Narrative

Have a Process

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Photo by Green Chameleon / Unsplash

Building a standard process can help you do your best work. Sample from these steps to make your own workflow.

1. Centered around the purpose of the feedback at hand, create your plan.

2. Set aside an appropriately sized amount of time.  If your plan will require multiple sittings, go ahead and schedule these out on your calendar, so time doesn’t get away from you. I find it very inefficient to let too much time pass between sittings because I lose a sense of what I have already done and must start over to orient myself.  Who has time for that?

3. Find a place where you can focus, be that hiding from your family in the bathroom, in a coffee shop soothed by the white noise of steaming espresso, or, if you are lucky enough to have one, locked in your home office.

4. For your first pass at written notes, make a version of the document, be it printed or an electronic file, that no one besides you will ever see. Here you won’t have to hold back or filter your thoughts. Having an eyes-only version of your first feedback pass ensures more helpful feedback later and allows you to move more quickly.

5. Read the document or portion you are working on more than once. It is hard to give good feedback if you have only skimmed.

6. Follow your feedback plan and take written notes about both what works very well and what needs improvement on your private version of the document.

7. You can wordsmith the final feedback on the version of the document you will provide the author at the end of the process. Don't overwhelm new writers with too much feedback - prioritize. Remember that writers at all levels appreciate kindness.

8. If possible, share your feedback with the author in person while physically present or using conferencing technology.  A conversation allows the author to ask the reviewer for clarification and squeezes the most value out of the feedback.  This connection is even more important when you are working with newer writers. One-on-one feedback allows you to nurture a trusted relationship with inexperienced writers that will help build their confidence.


Thanks to the following blogs for the fantastic information about giving feedback to creative writers.

How to Give Better Feedback to Your Peers
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The Novel Factory Blog - articles to help writers become more productive and knowledgeable.
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