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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Real Reason You NEED to Give Positive Feedback!

A few weeks ago, I got in contact with a writer who's novel is getting published. I had the pleasure of editing the manuscript last year. It didn't need much help--it was already really good and really polished by the time it got to me. But recently she thanked me for my feedback, and ensured it had been extremely helpful to her. One of the things she said was that she appreciated that I gave positive feedback.

Some people are under the misconception that positive feedback is only there to stroke the writer's self-esteem and ego. That's completely wrong. I admit that in some situations it's appropriate to only focus on what needs to be fixed--in my opinion, this is only when the story is literally being edited so it can be published or when the writer has already gotten positive feedback as to what is working. But for other parts of the process, positive feedback should not be skipped!

I have had writers tell me, "Only tell my what I'm doing wrong. It's the only way I can get better." I admit, I worry when they say that. Because the truth is, that's not the only way you get better. Positive feedback is also important in getting better.

While positive feedback can be great for motivating and making a writer feel good, especially when their confidence is struggling, it does more than that. It is just as important for a writer to know what is working as it is to know what's not working. Some of the things that are working well in the story may be things the writer did subconsciously. They could be things the author isn't even fully aware of. These things need to be pointed out so that the author can become aware of them and learn to gain conscious control over them, so they can intentionally use them in future stories, and use them to better effect.

Even if the author did do them very intentionally, it's important that they know it had the effect they intended--so they can better use it in the future and build from that. They need the validation, that yes, this line was hilarious. Or yes, the way you introduced this character was spot on. If we only focus on what needs to be "fixed," the author may mistakenly alter or change what is working or fail to do it again in their next story. It's not just about making the writer feel "good" about themselves.

Once at a writing group, we were workshopping a story. Everyone was very, very critical of it, which isn't always a bad thing, but in this particular case it was to the point where it was so out there, so nit-picky, it was just ridiculous. We didn't discuss one thing this story did right (I tried to point a few things out, but no one wanted to actually discuss them, it went nowhere). And you know what's funny? This was one of the best written stories I'd seen in my whole experience workshopping stories up to that point (which may have been why people wanted to get so critical--either because it needed that level of nit-picky, or because some people just wanted to tear it down out of jealousy). Afterward, some members were talking about the workshop. One replied by saying something like, "I'm not worried about [writer]. He can handle it."

I was kind of taken aback and frankly confused. Was this workshop meant to test us against powerful criticism or meant to make us better writers? What everyone around me seemed to fail to realize that day was that positive feedback was as important to creating a strong story and a better writer as negative feedback. The writer of the story may have been emotionally fine, like others had said, but for all I know, he may have gone home and trashed the story or at least half of it, thinking it wasn't working. In reality, it was one of the best written pieces I had seen.

So how can that be helpful?

Now, I do want to make it clear that I don't think the people here intentionally meant for this sort of thing to happen. The participants got caught up in the common belief that only negative feedback builds better, tougher writers. This isn't true. I also get the vibe that people were trying to make an example of this writer, making him the poster boy for how tough you need to be to take criticism in the writing world.

But the point was to give feedback to help the writer write better stories. I'm not sure we accomplished that in that particular class.

So, give your fellow writers positive feedback! Next time, I hope to be publishing my post on how to create and control tone. :)


  1. I've gotten better about giving positive feedback. I used to focus on the problems only, figuring the writer already knew what they were good at. Now I know better.


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