Feedback: Friend or Foe

When I took my first screenwriting course, I received a piece of advice I always keep at the forefront. Be careful of when and where you seek feedback. 

This is especially true at the early stages of any project. Share your ideas before they're developed, and you may be steered off the right path or encouraged to go in the wrong direction. Plus, when you receive too many ideas on your work from others, you run the risk of getting stalled by information-overload. This is neither good for you or your project.

For these - and other reasons - always be mindful of where and when you seek advice. I'm not saying never get input. (Sorry for the double-negative.) There are perils in going to the other extreme. Constructive feedback - and of course editing - are imperative for those who want to put out a professional project, which, by the way, should be everyone. 

Here are some rules to keep in mind where feedback is concerned.

1. Know your Work Before you Share It. You must have a sense of your project before you can be objective about any recommendations, and know whether you should keep or disregard them. Having trouble finding a path for your characters or the outline for your non-fiction book? Try writing things a few different ways, and give yourself the opportunity to decide on direction.

2. Choose a Few Trusted Advisors. Especially for longer work, at some point you will need feedback, editing, and maybe even some help with development. That's fine. Just keep your circle small and be selective. Reach out to no more than three or four people to be a part of this tribe. Make sure you have vetted any paid advisors before you bring them on board, and that the friends and peers you choose have your best interest in mind.

3.Share Work in Pieces. If you are having trouble with something specific and desperately need feedback, especially at the early stages, ask only about that bit. Keep your project as vague as possible, but share a scene, a character description, or an idea for something you might include. Compartmentalizing in this way will keep the conversation focused and unwarranted feedback at bay.   

I have a vivid memory of attending a critique group as a guest many years ago. A women read the first chapter in her romance novel, and people were offering her suggestions right and left. They ranged from changing the characters' traits and adding new ones to altering the plot entirely.

Afterwards, I sought out the author. It was my first meeting and I was not allowed to offer feedback in the group setting - don't get me started on that one. I told her to keep going in her direction, to follow her gut. There'd be plenty of time for input once she had a better sense of her novel, and could be objective about any recommendations.

What are your thoughts on getting feedback on your work? With whom do you share your work? Please share in the comments.

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Debra Eckerling is a writer, editor and project catalyst, as well as founder of Write On Online, a live and online writers’ support group. Like the Write On Online Facebook Page and join the Facebook Group

She is author of Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages, and host of the Guided Goals Podcast.

Debra is an editor at Social Media Examiner and a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Deb, it's the same with classes and conferences. When in doubt choose university-vetted guidance.

Debra Eckerling said...

Agreed, Carolyn. This topic came up in conversation three times in the last two days, so "had" to write about it. :)

Karen Cioffi said...

Debra, great suggestions on how and when to ask for feedback. Input is essential, but it's just as essential to get it from a select few.

Critique groups can be helpful, but you have to know which advice to take and which to ignore.

Debra Eckerling said...

Thanks, Karen! YES!!!

Sallie Wolf said...

Hi Debra, I both agree and disagree with your advice. I find that every time I read my work to an audience--any audience--I hear it differently. So I am able to take or leave the suggestions made--I gained what I needed by my own listening differently. I also have two critique groups with trusted writer friends, people who are generous in their thoughtful comments. Still, it is up to me to choose the comments that register with my intentions. And I need to listen with an open mind. If I hear the same criticism several times, then I know I need to address it in some way. I seek feedback often and widely, but I have learned not to pander to other's approval.

Debra Eckerling said...

Sallie, That's totally the point. You just need to know your work well enough before you share it in order to be objective. I am glad you have that balance. Best of luck with your writing!

Terry Whalin said...


Great post about feedback and input from others. Ultimately whether it is a critique group or a one-on-one feedback, as the writer, you are in control. Some suggestions feel right and you make those adjustments. Yet others do not so you don't do them. I always take feedback with a grain of salt. You are so right about making sure you get the feedback from the right place. Sometimes the feedback is poor and clueless.

Debra Eckerling said...

Yes. It's such a double-edged sword, Terry. You need feedback, just "writer beware."

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