by Linda Escalera Price
That’s always my first question when someone asks for feedback. Granted, it might be unspoken, but the answer (theirs or my best guess) guides the way in which I read and give feedback. There could be thousands of reasons (there’s an interesting writing prompt) and each reason guides me to read and critique the work in a different fashion.
- It’s a very raw, first draft and you want to know if the basic story holds together.
- You know it has problems – maybe a big plothole – but you want to know if the character development is working.
- You’ve gotten loads of feedback, done a hundred rewrites and you think it’s ready for submission
- You want to take my feedback to your high school English teacher to argue your grade because a professional writer liked it. (Yes, it’s happened.)
Once I know what you’re hoping to gain, I am in a better position to be able to help.
Here’s my basic process:
- I read your work as a reader or audience member. Not an editor, writer, producer, director or critic.
- I read it again – focused on the end result you need.
- I take notes which I will type up to give you. And I mark directly on your work – little things like smiley faces and hearts and exclamation points and “YES!” until it looks like a junior high school girl doodled on it.
- Depending on your needs, I’ll give broad strokes or specific, precise comments.
Regardless of the purpose of the feedback, there is one aspect that I never, never, never skip. It’s a lesson I learned in my very first job writing and producing radio commercials: Always start with a positive statement. Even if I have to search hard to find one. (Once I said, “Wow! You wrote a full-length play. That’s quite an accomplishment. Pat yourself on the back.” That was truly the only positive thing I could say about a play that contained 47 sets, flashbacks, dream sequences and – are you ready? – close ups.) And always end with encouragement.
If you ask me for feedback, understand I’m going to speak the truth. Yes, I want to encourage you, but I want to be sincere. And no, I don’t want to devastate you, but I want to be honest. Sometimes it’s a fine and difficult line. I will tell you want you need to hear – not just what you want to hear.
You can make the feedback process easier by asking me when I hope to be able to give you feedback and giving me one, clean copy. Please, please, please nudge me if I haven’t gotten back to you when I said I would, but don’t text me the next day to ask if I’ve read it yet. And please wait patient. Once, while I was diligently wading through a script written by the daughter of a friend of a friend, I received a revised script. I’d had the original for less than a week. As I started all over again reading the revised script – it was a very good friend – I received a new revision. After the 4th revised script, I gave up.
Don’t make me ask – or guess – tell me what you hope to gain. I’ve had people ask me to read their work and answer specific questions about it – that’s awesome! The more I understand what kind of help and feedback you need, the more effective the process will be. The more fun I’ll have reading/reacting. The more engaged I’ll be in the future of your project. And the more willing I’ll be to give you – and everyone else – future feedback.