‘What Does Better Writing Feedback Look Like?’

A good workshop is hard to come by (but here are some that have).

‘What Does Better Writing Feedback Look Like?’
[Photo by Yanyi: You are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and you're standing above an atrium with tropical plants and a wooden bench. Across the way is a large window through a stone wall, through which you can see five paintings on an interior wall.]

Hi there,

This April’s Writing Space will be in exactly one week. To sign up for free, you’ll find the member code at the end of this letter. See you there!

Now, on with the work.

Dear Yanyi,

I’d love your thoughts on the best way to give thoughtful, smart feedback to fellow writers who you may be in formal writing groups with (or informal ones). And also, how to lead feedback sessions that are generative, illuminating and challenging (in the best way possible). I guess, I’d also like to know in what ways people express feedback on your work is most productive for you. As a BIPOC writer, I’ve been on the receiving end of feedback that I felt was harmful, lazy, and, in one specific case, included an ad hominem attack that the instructor did nothing about. I am now leading a fellowship program with diverse writers of varying ages, genres, race/ethnicity, and gender identities (12 people in all). I do not want to replicate the patterns of harm that I have been on the receiving end of when engaging with the work of others. Do you have any tips, resources or lived experiences that could shed light on this issue? Thank you so very much!

Warmly,
A Better Way to Give Feedback

Dear BWGF,

First of all, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been on the receiving end of an ad hominem attack in a workshop setting, and I’m even more dismayed to hear that your instructor did nothing while it was happening. There is so much care that is needed in the line of teaching. For what it’s worth, it’s good that you have a basis of personal experience from which you know what’s a stake as you been crafting this program.

As you and I know, you wrote this letter to me some years ago, so your journey with this fellowship program is probably well underway (perhaps you have more to tell about the topic now—if so, I’d love to hear from you again). I think I received it at around the same time I had just written about giving feedback, MFA programs, and reading each other better, but the intervening years have given me more teaching experiences and, therefore, more insight that I can perhaps now offer to you.