Ever been overwhelmed by too much feedback on your writing?

I’m lucky to belong to four amazing writer’s groups (one is online).

One of my groups meets for four hours every week, and it’s fabulous. We’re all serious about our craft, and work hard not just on our own writing but on helping each other achieve our goals.

As well as good writing, we also appreciate good food :)

As well as good writing, we appreciate good food 🙂

We’re an ecclectic mix of novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, short story writers, poets and YA and kidlit authors. Having such a diverse group means that feedback is always unique and fresh.

But in the early days of our group, the feedback could sometimes be overwhelming.

When it’s an early draft and you get pages and pages of ‘track changes’ it can be a bit disheartening and sometimes confusing – especially when those ‘track changes’ are contradictory.

Our group discussed this at length and talked about how we could make the feedback more constructive.

We all agreed that you don’t actually need a detailed edit on your first draft. All you need to know is the big picture stuff … things like, does the reader engage with the character, does the story keep the reader turning the pages, are there logic problems or inconsistencies?


So now when we’re doing a first draft, that’s exactly what we ask for – only the feedback we need at that point in the writing process.

In fact, no matter what stage we are in our work, we always ask for specific feedback.

This has two major benefits. The first one is that it makes us think critically about our own writing. The second benefit is that it allows us to focus on revising certain aspects of our story rather than being overwhelmed by the feeling that that everything is wrong with every part of the story.

Different drafts really do require different kinds of feedback.

It’s also just as important to give positive and complimentary responses to a writer’s work. This helps them know what’s working in the story so they can keep doing it.

2011becket_med-4I’m going to be discussing giving and receiving effective feedback in more detail at my workshop at the upcoming CYA Conference in Brisbane on July 2.

If you have special critiquing methods/processes that work for you and your writer’s group, I’d love to hear about them.

Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and critiquing 🙂



12 thoughts on “Ever been overwhelmed by too much feedback on your writing?

  1. Great advice, Dee. I tend to use ‘tracking’ and my comments/edits overwhelm the document. Might be better for me to offer ‘big picture’ advice first.

  2. Great post. I also belong to a few groups and it is easy to be overwhelmed with feedback especially when people decide to copyedit a first draft. Being specific about the feedback you want is priceless.

  3. Glad you found it helpful, Kaye,

    That’s exactly what we were finding in our group.

    You can get overwhelmed by detailed feedback on pieces of the work that might be discarded anyway once the big picture stuff is worked out.

    As I mentioned, it’s also great to think about your own work in a critical light and get used to using your instincts about what’s not working.

    Good luck with it 🙂


  4. ‘the feedback sandwich’ is always good to keep in mind: something positive, something negative, and then a positive summing up. a worthwhile approach for those of us with fragile writer-egos.

  5. We put our heart and soul into our writing Libby, so it’s no wonder we feel a bit fragile about our work.

    I also find that being positive is also a good learning tool because if we know what’s working well, we know what we should keep doing 🙂


  6. Hi Dee, Great advice here, as always! I’m hoping to attend you session at CYA. I’m volunteering there this year, so I have to take my chances. In any event, looking forward to catching up with you. I’ve been v-e-r-y busy since our email correspondence back in January/February!

  7. I hope you can make it to my session too, Ali.

    In any case, we will definitely catch up and I look forward to hearing all about what you have been busy on 🙂


  8. When I first started writing, I belonged to a critique group. We had up to eight members and kept it small on purpose. This was back in the early days of printers (dot matrix and first gen inkjets). We would each bring a hard copy of our chapter or short story for each member every week. We read the pieces during the week and made our notes and changes on the manuscripts so we could turn them back to the person at the next meeting. We gave an overall impression, something positive, and then what we wanted to see changed.

    I learned that, while everyone wanted something slightly different if there was a majority that wanted one thing changed, it probably needed changed. The rest was up to my discretion. I had one chapter of my book where everyone wanted a major change. I was (quietly) opposed because it was a major story point. I went home and thought about it. I changed three words and the whole knotty issue straightened out. Sometimes it only takes three words, and sometimes, it takes removing the first two chapters and weaving that story in later.

    Critiquing someone’s work is a delicate art at best. The story always has some of the author in it, whether they mean to or not, so I always approach critiques with that in mind and do it as gently as possible.

  9. Thanks for sharing, Deb,

    Isn’t amazing how a few little words can change something so drastically? And sounds like your instincts were right.

    Critiquing is definitely a delicate art isn’t it? But can be so valuable.

    Dee 🙂

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