The art of giving quality feedback is a tricky one. Most of us were taught by the education system to criticise, measure, compare, evaluate, express approval or disapproval, rate, grade, and so on. Unfortunately, this kind of feedback doesn’t help much when it concerns creativity. It’s hard to imagine how one becomes a better writer by being criticised or evaluated. In fact, this kind of feedback is sort of manipulative: we position the other person in a particular way and influence her/him by that.
The other kind of feedback is still very rare. It isn’t about our opinions regarding the other person’s work. It’s about ourselves — we just describe what we feel and think when we’re experiencing it, and there is no place for marks and grades, no right or wrong. This shift of the focus point makes a big difference. The other characteristic of non-manipulative kinds of feedback is empathy. We’re accepting that the other person has the right to feel and think in that particular way and are aware of situations in our own lives when we have had similar experiences.
In the context of writing feedback, it means I only describe what I’ve been feeling and thinking when reading the text and avoid critique, evaluation, or advice.
Here are some creative ways of giving useful feedback from a very inspiring book, Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow:
- Note which words or sentences you’ve experienced as full of energy, true, powerful.
- Summarise what you’ve read: quickly recap what you see as the text’s main points; then summarise them into a single sentence and then, into a single word.
- Describe the feelings and thoughts you’ve had like a story: what you felt or thought first, what next, and so on.
- Use metaphors if it’s difficult for you to explain your perceptions directly: if the text were weather, what type of weather? What animal or plant? What color, geometric figure, landscape, musical instrument, etc.?
There are many more ways of giving feedback on a written text. In fact, there are plenty of things one can learn from others’ writing. But let’s leave that for one of the next posts.
In conclusion, a few tips on receiving feedback:
- Don’t try to explain what you wanted to say with the text and keep from making apologies.
- Don’t try to answer to others’ feedback, just accept it.
- Don’t argue about others’ reactions; everyone has their own vision and this diversity is necessary to give you a larger picture.
Perceive the feedback you received as a message for you to interpret, in the same way as your writing has been perceived by your reader.
If you’re interested in becoming part of a writing feedback group, let me know in the comments! I’ll announce the details very soon — stay tuned!