Getting The Most From Critical Feedback

At certain stages of the writing process, getting critical feedback from critique partners, beta readers, and even professional editors can be invaluable. Often we are so absorbed in our work that it can be hard to see the forest for the trees—or at least the plot holes for the page! Here are a few tips for getting the most out of your feedback, which can be both an overwhelming and rewarding process.

Know what kind of feedback you want, and don't respond emotionally when you receive it.

Be upfront with your expectations

Knowing what kind of feedback you’re looking for is an important thing to communicate when seeking critiques. It ensures the reader isn’t wasting time on something you don’t need and that you get the perspective you’re looking for.

Some people respond best to straight criticism, while other people need a softer approach. There’s no right or wrong way but knowing what works best for you is important. If positive feedback is something that you know helps you stay motivated when doing revisions, let your reader know from the start.

This also applies to the areas you want to focus on. If you’re happy with your plot but know your language could use some work, share that—they’ll know to mark out line edits and stay away from the big stuff. If you’re not ready for nitpicky notes on sentence structure because you want to focus on your character development, make sure you communicate so they can read for that.

Set a timeline

Waiting for feedback can be hard, especially if you don’t have another project to distract you. Setting a timeline makes it so both of you are on the same page and the one providing feedback can be sure they have the time to get it to you. If you need your chapter back by the weekend, make that clear so they don’t plan to work on it on their next day off. If you don’t need to see their feedback on your MS for 2 months, let them know so they can plan accordingly.

Read their notes, then sleep on it

If waiting for feedback is hard, sometimes actually receiving it is harder. Often the work being critiqued is something you’ve put a lot of time, effort, and emotion into, and hearing that it didn’t sit well with someone, or that there is a major issue you didn’t notice, can be hard to take. Read through their notes, then set them aside. Have a cry if you need to. Rage about it to your cat. Then, come back to it. Are you sure the fact that your world’s economy is based on the value of cheese was in the text? Could there be a valid reason why your reader thought your main character hated her sister? Often we flesh out so much of our worlds in our heads that important worldbuilding elements don’t even make it onto the page. Taking some time to let the critiques sink in can really help gain some perspective. It allows us to move past our immediate (emotional) response and makes room to consider why they gave the feedback they did.

Ask questions

Sometimes what someone writes about your work doesn’t make sense, and sometimes it just seems like they missed the point. If you’re not sure why someone wrote something—ask! The best way to find out why your reader thought the two love interests were the same person is to ask them. Maybe the names are just too similar (ahem, Arwen and Eowyn), or maybe you accidentally gave them all the same character traits—not everybody can be hot-headed and quick with a comeback! Without asking, you could be looking at two different problems with two different solutions. The exchange of ideas doesn’t have to end just because they’ve sent their feedback. In fact, the best person to talk about ways to fix some of the problems with your work is often the person who noticed them in the first place.

Say thank you!

If you’ve ever agreed to read someone’s work and give them feedback on it, you know it can be a time- and energy-consuming process. Once you’ve received their notes make sure you thank them for their input. They took the time to give you thoughtful criticisms—take the time to shoot them a quick email letting them know you appreciate it.

Fiona McTaggart has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pen. She studied English and Creative Writing at Concordia University and is an editorialist for Harry Potter fansite, She lives in Whitehorse, Canada where she spends her time reading, writing, and making doughnuts. Fiona is currently working on her second MG fantasy novel.

Find her on Twitter @FionaLMcTaggart and Instagram @fiona.mctaggart