On giving notes and taking notes…

This is (nearly) straight from the Scrawlers FAQ. We’re interested in making Scrawlers as close to an actual writing workshop as possible. To that end, we decided to give tips on good notegiving and good notetaking; it’s advice we wish more writers in actual live, in-person writing workshops would take to heart…

How do I write good workshop notes?

Reader feedback can be a great thing, and it’s what a writing workshop is all about. The best feedback is helpful feedback. Merely stating, “I liked it!” or “This sucks!” doesn’t tell the writer anything. Be specific. Point out details. Offer solutions. Ask yourself questions and answer them for the reader:

Why did you like it? What works for the story? What made you laugh or cry or smile? Just as important is what is missing from the story? What may improve its readability? What specifically isn’t working? There are dozens of questions you could ask yourself – choose the questions that matter for the story you’re reading and answer them for the writer.

We suggest going into the notegiving process with an open mind. Not every note you make will make sense for the reader, but giving constructive notes will help you read better, discern between good notegiving and not-so-good notegiving, and improve your writing.

How do I respond to workshop notes?

There are two kinds of writers – those who take all notes equally and those who end up playing defense. The writer who end up playing defense are the writers who immediately respond to every negative note with justification or dismissal.

The writer who takes all notes equallys is the writer who lets notes sit in their brain for a little while. They may not agree with every note they receive right away, but if they go away from their story (and notes) for a week and come back, they may find some of those notes are right.

We suggest going into the notetaking process with an open mind. Not every note will make sense for you, but weighing the merits of each one will help you see something you didn’t see before, discern between good notegiving and not-so-good notegiving, and improve your writing.

* * *

These aren’t failsafe, by any means, but it’s a good place to start. There’s nothing worse than getting fifteen pages of manuscript you slaved over back at the end of a workshop, only to see someone simply wrote “I liked it!” on the last page. On the other hand, when a writer gets their rejected stories back from editors, magazines, etc. it’s true that personalized notes are few and far between, so perhaps be happy you’re getting even, “I liked it!” At the very least, it won’t be, “This sucks!”

~nm

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