Praise or Honest Feedback: Which Are You Asking For?

I’ve got a story for you. It goes like this:

The other day, I asked my fiancee for feedback on my writing. This is not unusual; she always offers great thoughts on how to improve my work. This time, I gave her a piece about a creepy painting (the final version of which you can read here).

My fiancee had a lot of thoughts on the piece. After a while I found myself disputing them. When she said the characters felt flat, I said that was intentional. When she said she wanted something creepier, I argued it was creepy enough.

I stepped away from this experience wondering why I did what I did. If I wanted honest feedback, why then did I disagree with it when I got it?

Here’s my theory: though I asked for it, honest feedback wasn’t what I was looking for. I actually wanted praise. I wanted someone to tell me my story was good.

The more I think about it, the more I realize this is not all that uncommon. Take members of my writer’s group, for example. Some members have received honest feedback at meetings, then haven’t come back again. These folks also didn’t note any of the feedback they got. Which makes me think they weren’t actually looking for constructive criticism. They wanted someone to tell them their writing was good.

I think we all do this to some extent, whether or not we realize it. When we share our work, it’s because we hope others will derive some enjoyment from it. (Otherwise, why share it?) Some part of us wants to hear that our readers like our writing.

So then, is it wrong to seek praise? I don’t think so. For writers, praise is essential. Praise validates what we’re doing. In my aforementioned writer’s group, for example, we always start critiques by stating everything we like about the piece under review. It’s arguably the most important part of the whole process.

If you feel upset when you receive people’s honest feedback, it might be because you’re unconsciously hoping for praise. So when you solicit feedback, be upfront about what you’re looking for, both with the reviewer and yourself. If you want to know what people like about a story, ask them. Don’t ask for honest, constructive criticism unless you really mean it.

And remember: Everyone needs praise, but praise on its own won’t make your writing better. Criticism will. When you’re ready, make sure to ask specifically for both praise and criticism. “What did you like about this piece?” “How do you think I can improve it?”

Whether it’s praise or honest feedback, communicate exactly what you’re looking for. And either way, don’t forget to have fun!

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3 thoughts on “Praise or Honest Feedback: Which Are You Asking For?

  1. I think you’re right; almost always, when I send a piece out to my critique group, I think it’s “ready,” and at least part of me expects praise. I’m of mixed minds about asking specific questions, because I don’t want to tell readers in advance what I want the piece to do. Their comments should tell me if I’ve succeeded or not. On the other hand, if I’m struggling with something specific, and really want advice on how to improve a scene or something, asking the question makes sense.

    • Thanks for commenting, Audrey! Agreed, I sometimes don’t like asking questions up front, especially if they’re super specific. For example, I’m afraid if I ask something like, “Do you dislike this character?” readers will immediately find reasons to dislike said character. People in my writer’s group often ask specifics like that at the end of the piece rather than the beginning.

  2. You are right. Sometimes we are not ready for the honest criticism when it is first received but after it marinates for a while (particularly if several people voice the same point.), it can be helpful. I also agree if it easier on the ego if they start with at least one point they do like.

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