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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Do You Know Who NOT to Ask for Feedback?

You can't get good feedback from readers who are wrong for your writing

You can’t get good feedback from readers who are wrong for your writing

Sometimes we get so caught up in the desire for response to our writing, we forget to screen the sources of that feedback. But all readers are not equal.

Find Readers Who Are Right for Your Writing

When asking for feedback, choose people whose opinions you respect and who have the experience, interest and emotional intelligence to respond in useful ways.

Your readers should be familiar and experienced with your genre. Poets don’t need to hear “I don’t really get poetry. What’s it supposed to mean?” Essayists don’t want their draft to be the first personal essay their readers have seen since their last English Lit class years ago.

Readers who don’t read a particular sub-genre like science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historical, etc., will have questions about techniques and elements that typical readers of that genre will understand immediately. Be careful about how much time you invest explaining the conventions of your genre compared to how much time you spend talking about your writing.

More importantly, readers who are familiar you’re your genre are better prepared to notice and bring your attention to nuances and opportunities you might otherwise miss.

Who to Kick Out of Your Reader Pool

Most writers face resistance at some time, so resistance certainly isn’t a disqualifier. But be wary of writers who seem more invested in their resistance than their writing. You don’t need a partner in creating excuses or commiserating about how “awful publishing is these days.”

Be careful around writers who have severe inner critics; some of that caustic inner dialogue may leak onto to you and your writing. You and your readers need to be aware of your own Saboteur and alert to the possibility of one person’s Saboteur activating another’s Saboteur.

Be equally cautious of writers or situations that are highly judgmental. (more about the distinction between judgment and discernment) If, for example, you notice workshop participants “scoring points” by criticizing other students, don’t open yourself for attack in that environment.

What other welcome signs or warning signs do you look for before asking for feedback?

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7 Comments on “Do You Know Who NOT to Ask for Feedback?”

  1. Paige McKinney April 23, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    My first response to the post title was “my family,” but after reading, I’d have to say “anyone not in it for the story.” A reader who is genuinely interested, even if he or she isn’t familiar with the genre, is more valuable than someone who is just going through the motions, giving to get feedback or points in return.

    I’ve been in the hindsight is 20/20 group about warning signs, and look forward to changing that.


    • rosannebane April 24, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

      Thanks Paige. I agree completely that someone who is genuinely interested is going to be a much better source of feedback than someone who’s reading because s/he think s/he has to.


  2. Joel D Canfield April 23, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Questions before opinions. When someone asks a clarifying question, and listens to the answer, I’m ready to hear just about anything they have to say because I’m convinced they were really listening.

    And commendation before criticism always helps. Sometimes when we’re offering criticism, we forget that this includes pointing out what works, not just what doesn’t work. Knowing that your protagonist’s sense of humor is a good fit is just as helpful as knowing that this or that bit of dialog feels unnatural.


    • rosannebane April 24, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

      I agree completely Joel! I think questions are always more helpful and powerful than opinions. BTW: I really learned how to ask good questions in my “internship” as a coach. Did becoming a coach teach you the power of questions or have you always known?


      • Joel D Canfield April 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

        I think it was my love for and appreciation of questions which led naturally to the various types of coaching I’ve done.

        Though I guess my first coaching job was 5 kids. Leading a teenager to a healthy decision by asking them logical questions instead of telling them what I expected taught me how powerful it was.


        • rosannebane April 25, 2013 at 9:03 am #

          Lucky kids! Given the undeveloped nature of a teenager’s prefrontal cortex, leading them to healthy decisions with logical questions is a challenge, which is probably why some people resort to “Because I said so!”
          Coaching helped relieve me of my tendency to tell people what they “should do.” I always had good intentions to encourage people (e.g. “you should write about that”), but good intentions can’t fix a bad approach. I would never dream of telling a coaching client what to do, so I’m far less likely to say something like that to friends and family now.



  1. Critique Groups: Be Afraid? | Someday Box - August 2, 2013

    […] more on the subject, read Rosanne Bane’s article on who to ask for feedback. She talks about the levels of feedback, and how to clarify what you’re looking […]


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