Today I want to talk about feedback.
I've ranted on the subject before about opinions being like assholes – everybody has one (well, unless you're grown in a lab and are genetically engineered not to have one…hey, I write…I think about these things). I've also ranted on the subject of how much weight you should or shouldn't give to an opinion. I've talked about crit and how to respond to it without looking like a douchebag.
What I haven't talked about is what it means to offer crit/feedback.
Critting someone else's work is time-consuming and can be very dangerous for a lot of reasons. If you're critting for a friend and they're not the kind of person who can separate personal and professional critique, you're going to have a problem.
Some people just don't understand that you can like them as a person, but not like their writing or their story. As I said, some people can't separate the two; "well if you don't like my writing you must not like me."
Absolutely not true. I can like a person fine, but not like something they do. People who work for Amazon or Wal-mart, let's say. I don't like either of those companies, but some of people I know who work for them are awesome. It's not their fault the company they work for has issues.
Just like it's not my fault if I tell you that your writing isn't up to par, or is missing something, or has something lacking. We can still go to dinner and talk about things.
I don't crit often for this reason. I am one of those people who will give you my opinion – my honest opinion – if you ask me for it.
Note that: if you ask me for it. You should never ask me a question you don't want an honest answer to. Don't ask the question if you don't want the answer. If you want me to tell you something specific, tell me that. I still won't lie to you, though.
I make it very clear that I don't crit for many, or often. The first reason being time. I just don't have the time to devote to another person's work right now. I did once upon a time, but now I don't.
That's one of the things you should consider when offering to crit or beta for someone. Do you have the time? If you do, what kind of crit are they looking for? Are they going to get pissed at you for giving your honest opinion? You know…the opinion they're asking you to give?
Most importantly – can they separate the personal and professional? It's harder to do than you might think. It's hard not to take criticism of your writing personally because you put so much of yourself into it. That's a piece of you, a part of you, and when someone finds fault with it, it's hard not to associate that with the rest of you.
But you have to. If you're going to make it as a professional writer, you have to learn the difference between personal and professional crit.
If you're going to offer to look at someone else's work, make sure you know what you're in for. I've had more than one relationship change over this very thing. Make sure they know what they're asking of you.
Also, make sure you're comfortable giving them what they want. I, personally, am not comfortable just telling someone what they want to hear. It feels like lying to me, and my honesty might be brutal, but at least it's honest. I don't pat people on the head and tell them they're good when they actually suck. I feel that's doing more harm than good. If you want someone to tell you they love you no matter what, ask a parent or spouse. DO NOT ASK A CRIT PARTNER/BETA.
The whole point of feedback is to improve. You can't improve if you don't want to be told what's wrong.
And you can't help someone if they don't want to be helped. You can't tell them something is wrong if they don't want to hear it.
Remember that the next time someone asks you to read their stuff. Ask them questions about what they want – feedback, crit, or just a plain old-fashioned opinion. There are vast differences, and you should know going in which one to give.
The following terms are used interchangeably and indiscriminately, but there are differences you should be aware:
Feedback – generally refers to "editorial feedback," or an in-depth review of the work; what does and doesn't work, plot and structure consideration, character development, interaction and likability, etc. (You'll see a lot of rejection letters say something like "I'm sorry I can't offer feedback on this." This is what they mean. They can't tell you what needs improvement, etc. They can just tell you that it's not for them.)
Crit – short for "criticism." This is more than an opinion but not quite as much as feedback. This is more than "tell me what you think." This is "tell me what you think and why you think that." Crit can also include things like punctuation, misused/repeated words, typos and so on. It's a good look at both the story and the mechanics.
Opinion – "Tell me what you think." This is the basic form of feedback and the one that can get you into the most amount of trouble. It's just an opinion, usually in the form of "do you like it or hate it," and again can be taken the most personally. They don't want to know why you hate it or why you like it; just which one. Sometimes they'll ask "why" after you tell them which it is and you have to come up with your reasons right there on the spot. That's always fun….
Now, if you don't have someone you can ask for crit/feedback, there are plenty of professionals out there who will do the things above for various fees, depending on which you want. Do your research or ask someone who has used these services before for a recommendation if you're not sure where to turn.
So there you go. As a writer, be sure what you're looking for, and be sure you ask the right people for the right feedback. You shouldn't ask your best friend for editorial feedback if they're not an editor or don't have a background in English or know what they're talking about. If they read a lot, great! But if they don't…well…you might run into a problem.