I’m always honoured when other writers ask me to read or edit their work. As a writer myself, I know exactly the time, energy, and willpower that went into a manuscript. I also know how it feels to have someone tear it to shreds.
When the time comes to give feedback, part of me is always afraid that my well meaning critique will end up discouraging instead of encouraging; aggravating instead of helping. There’s a fine line between honesty and cruelty when it comes to picking apart someone’s baby.
My strategy remains consistent: identify, explain, suggest. I try never to criticize vaguely or fail to offer a possible solution. My hope is that I get the writer thinking, even if they don’t go in the direction I pointed out.
In a formal edit, this usually means highlighting specific passages in the manuscript and adding a comment bubble.
If it’s simply a manuscript critique or a beta read, I might copy and paste a few examples of a specific problem into my editorial letter.
In the comment bubble, I’ll tell you exactly what error has been made and why it’s an issue. It may be a technical mistake or more of a stylistic issue, and I’ll let you know if it’s purely something that bugged me as a reader.
Whether it’s a plot issue or a technical mistake, I’ll often suggest an alternative solution.
In a formal edit, I may reword a sentence or two in track changes, or ask the writer to consider an alternate sentence in a comment bubble.
For a manuscript critique or a beta read, my suggestions may be more general, and might encourage the writer to edit the document focusing on one issue, like adding emotion and “showing, not telling”, or to pick out repetitive words and phrases.
Providing feedback to writers requires compassion and sensitivity. Receiving criticism about a writing project can make anyone feel vulnerable, so it’s important to approach it with respect and make sure it really is constructive.