I think, as a whole, writers are a unique group of artists. We need feedback to make our work better, we utilize the feedback (hopefully) to strengthen and tighten our writing. We rely on others even though writing is a largely independent task. We are attached to our work, to our characters, and our story lines. To share those is one thing; to receive criticism on them is another. It is never easy to hear that something you've put pieces of your heart and soul into did not come across the way you hoped it would. But just like other industries, the competition is fierce and good is not good enough. Your writing has to be great and for that to happen, you have to use that feedback, even if it hurts, to make your writing stand out.
Having said that, there are ways to critique and ways to...not critique. I've been editing for well over a year now and I have seen multiple manuscripts, come to know many characters, and been introduced to entire new worlds. Were they all my taste? No. Did I love every single bit of every single one? No. Do I even read in that genre? Sometimes but not always. All of these people trusted me with their words, those little pieces of themselves, and if I've agreed to edit it, to help them, I need to do that in the most constructive way possible. So, think hard before you say you will help make someone a better writer. If you think you can do that by tearing them down first, you're wrong. I'll share some ideas, based on experience, of how you can, gently, guide writers in the right direction.
What? Huh? I don't get it? I'm totally confused? Who's talking?
The introduction does not clarify who the speaker is. (Side note: let the writer finish the first sentence before you start saying you're confused. Give it a chance.)
I don't feel anything for your characters. I'm not drawn to them at all.
Ask questions about the character that will encourage the writer to dig deeper. For example: Does the character have any nervous habits? Can you show through body language how the character feels about this?
I wouldn't turn the page on this.
Asking the writer questions. They might just not know where the best part to start the story is. Tell them what DID grab you. Tell them what you WANT to know more about.
If you offer to edit a fellow writer's work, remember to have some etiquette. Don't leave them feeling like they should scrap the entire piece: EVEN IF, IN YOUR OWN MIND, YOU THINK THEY SHOULD.
My daughter tells the worst knock knock jokes. I don't want her to stop telling jokes for the rest of her life, but if she's going to tell them, I'm going to help her tell ones that actually make people laugh. To do that, I have to work with her, look up jokes, get her to practice them and then let her try them on me again.
Yes, writing requires talent. I think that writers have a strong sense of story or at least an affinity for words. Regardless, there are ways to learn to become a better writer. Maybe the person you edit for won't be published. But that doesn't mean you can't help them be better at something that matters to them. My daughter won't be a comedian but I can help her tell a joke with confidence. Don't take away someone's confidence by being careless with your words. Do the same thing with your feedback that you would do with your own writing before you send it off: EDIT. Make sure your words will help, not hurt.
And if that doesn't work, go with the old adage, if you can't say anything nice....
Have you had constructive feedback that made you better at something? Share it below.