While at the Editing Goes Global conference in Toronto, I had the opportunity to attend a session led by the wonderful Arlene Prunkl, an experienced editor who works with self-publishing clients. During the session, she talked about how to give feedback to writers in a positive and compassionate way. I believe her tips are useful not just for editors, but for anyone who has been asked to provide comments on someone else’s work.
While listening to Arlene, it occurred to me that writers asking for feedback are in a similar situation to the character of Neo at the beginning of the movie The Matrix. They know something is not quite right about the story world they are living and breathing. But they’re not quite sure what the problem is. They seek out an editor, who offers to show them the truth.
That editor needs to be careful when delivering feedback, or the writer is going to regret choosing that red pill.
Here are three simple tips provided by Arlene on how to word your comments positively.
1) Avoid using the word “you” in an accusing way. (“You need to change this.”) Refer to the problem, not the person.
Don’t be like Agent Smith and make your writer feel like a worthless insect.
2) Write your comment in the passive voice. (“This sentence can be tightened.”) This helps you to convey the information in a neutral tone.
Be a calm mentor, like Morpheus.
3) Show flexibility by using words like “perhaps” or phrases like “you may want to consider.”
After all, the writer is the One who wrote the text, not you. Respect the effort that has been put into the text. And remember, you don’t know everything. Sometimes there is no spoon.
If you do your job right, the writer will suddenly see the text in a new way. And they will have the confidence to change things for the better.
© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015
Images from the movie The Matrix
Do you find it difficult to provide feedback to writers? What has worked for you? Have you ever read comments that made you cringe?