I’m part of multiple critique groups (yeah, they’re that important) and receive all manner of feedback, from good to bad, helpful to hurtful. They fall into five general categories:
1) Unhelpful: Let’s start with this one and get it out of the way. Some critique partners don’t provide useful information. The reasons are numerous, but it includes people who don’t know how to give a critique, people who aren’t qualified (such as someone who only reads nonfiction, attempting to critique fiction), people who try to make their writing look better by criticizing others, and people who simply like to talk. We must discern and then dismiss this type of feedback.
2) Encouraging: Some readers gush with praise. They may not know what else to say, not want to criticize, or hope if they’re nice to you, you’ll reciprocate with them. We all need encouragement, but a steady diet of accolades will skew our self-perception.
3) The Big Picture: Some people look at overall structure; they address confusing passages, awkward flow, and unneeded passages. They may also suggest you reorder your piece, delete sections, or insert new content. Following their advice is time-consuming, but each suggestion warrants careful consideration.
4) Line Edits: Some folks are detail people. They provide copious comments on punctuation, word choice, sentence structure, and so forth. Their feedback is tedious to process. It is also most valuable, assuming they know what they’re talking about.
5) Less is More: These critique partners challenge you with one major item to address. Their words are concise and profound. One trusted reviewer, simply smiled at me and said, “I want to see you bleed.” I immediately knew I needed to pour more of myself into my piece and not play it safe.
When we share our work, we’ll receive all five types of feedback. Knowing how to receive and respond to each one is critical to improving our writing.