Getting feedback, or constructive critique, from others is an important part of growing as a writer.
When I was a teen poet, many moons ago, I could never conceive of editing a poem. Each piece of work poured out of me complete and correct and to change it was tantamount to erasing part of my soul. A little dramatic, but, I was a teenager. Even if I was offered feedback, I would use it to create another poem entirely; not a bad thing, as the beta version could often be a springboard for a better poem, or it could stand on its own over time, and I had both, side by side to consider.
As I grew older, though, I learned to loosen my attachment to my work in order to improve it. I can sometimes edit obsessively (although more so with longer works of prose) but I have often looked to other writers I trust to give me an honest assessment of my work. I have learned that raw and refined both have their value, and some works can blend the two seamlessly, once we know where the rough edges can be smoothed, and the flat bits can be given texture.
As I have said elsewhere, though, asking for and receiving feedback is a vulnerable act, especially for the novice writer, or one who lacks confidence in their efforts. This is when some writers turn to the support of a writer’s group.
When you are considering bringing a piece of work to a Writer’s Circle, it is important to prepare. Choosing your work carefully, and making it easy for others to offer you critique will help the process go more smoothly. For Poetas Sin Fronteras, these are our feedback guidelines. Note that we try to make it as painless as possible for our writers to get the feedback they need.
Guidelines for Writer’s Circle (PSF):
- Bring a piece of writing that is rough or a work-in-progress. If you feel a piece is already finished, you may not be open to feedback, so bringing it to Writer’s Circle is a waste of time.
- If you can, provide a basic translation or synopsis in the other language. (We can also help with that.) It does not have to be in poetic form.
- If you can, bring a copy of the poem for everyone in the group. That way, they can also offer additional suggestions, or simple mechanical/spelling or word choice feedback.
- You may also send a copy to the facilitators and/or members of the group electronically.
- You may read your work out loud, or have another person read it for you. You can also submit it for Writer’s Circle anonymously through the facilitator/s, who will read it for you.
- It is especially good if you have a specific question or point of focus for the feedback, such as rhythm, correct usage of poetic devices, etc. (see list “Points of Focus” below.)
We all like to assume that others know how to behave, but it is important for any group to have norms, or agreed upon standards of conduct, so that problems don’t arise out of misunderstandings.
Writer’s Circle Norms
- Show Respect. Being in the hot seat is hard, even for experienced writers. Offhand comments, side conversations, or obvious disengagement is rude and discouraging.
- Give 100%. Even if you are not giving or receiving feedback, you might learn something, or get ideas by just listening. Listening actively is also polite and shows respect for the writer. Even if you do not understand the language fully, listen for the rhythm and any vocabulary you recognize. Understanding of the content will be made clearer in discussion. Active listening and light note taking is encouraged. If you don’t wish to participate, feel free to skip this portion of the meetup.
- Have a Growth Mindset. We are ALL here to learn and grow. Even established writers use feedback to develop. Feedback helps us think more deeply about our writing, as well as to develop and polish our craft.
- Assume the Best. We are here to help one another. We should assume that everyone is here to encourage us to become better. However, especially with differences in language, things may come out awkwardly. Do your best to clarify before becoming upset. That said, people who engage in non-constructive or hurtful behavior will be asked to leave.
In a writer’s group, knowledge of how to give, receive, and ask for feedback is important. Knowing how to give feedback constructively, and with empathy for another’s vulnerability is important, as is the knowledge of how to ask for the kind of critique you want, and the grace to receive it well. I have gathered and put together some guidelines for critique that might be able to help on the following pages.
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