Writing Tip: How (and Why!) to Gracefully Give Writing Advice

Story excerpt by Mark A. Nobles
By Rachel Pilcher,
Founder of Fort Worth Writer’s Boot Camp

Offering writing advice can be tricky. Whether this is advice on how to improve their writing or suggestions on prepping their work for publication, no one ever wants to hear that what they've written is terrible. Not only does this put them on the defensive, but it also makes them feel terrible. It can even be the catalyst for a severe case of writer’s block. Believe me, I've experienced this very thing myself!

I know how it feels to be told by someone that they don’t like your work. A long time ago I had a mentor once, someone whom I greatly respected, read several pieces that I finally felt confident enough to give them. A few weeks went by and they said nothing about either piece of writing. I finally asked for a candid opinion, and the response set the tone for what soon became the demise of our professional… and personal… relationship, “I didn’t like it.” When pressed for more details, the response was “I just didn't like it.” That was it. I was crushed. 

Many years later I presented one of the pieces to my critique group, who offered advice for fixing the few problems it had, but in general, actually gave it praise. That was such a confidence booster for me. This is why, when it comes to critiquing someone’s work, it's a rule of mine to say at least one good thing before any suggestions for improvement are made. It helps so much when writers hear you praising before you offer your criticism. If you are part of a critique group, or if another writer takes a chance that you’ll give them your honest opinion of their work, please be considerate and don’t start out saying everything is wrong. This is being graceful.

Yes, this is all about protecting the other person’s feelings. It is helping in building up the writer’s confidence so they keep writing, self-editing, and improving their writing. Even if all you say is, “I like where you are going with this, but I’ve found a few things that you really need to work on to make it pop,” then follow with helpful suggestions, it will make a world of difference to the writer being critiqued and give them the opportunity to improve.

There are a handful of people who will read this and say, “Nope, lay it all out there and tell me it's crap.” They are the few. There is a reason why so many people are closet writers who end up never publishing their portfolio of years of writing. They are afraid of what others may think, especially if they really are afraid that it may just be crap. Their writing may not be the best, but with helpful critique and editing, it could be something great.

If, as a writer, someone ever only has negative or vague comments about your writing, don’t take what they're saying to heart. As they say with doctors and lawyers, “Always get a second opinion.”