Destructive vs. Constructive Feedback

Posted by on Jun 15, 2011 in Uncategorized | 5 comments

Looking at the title, you might think it’s pretty simple to determine the difference. If you think that, I think you’d be wrong. There’s a vast difference between the two, that much is true. Sometimes however, people don’t realize that the feedback they’re getting is destructive.

When you ask someone to read something you wrote, and tell you what they thought, that person has a few choices.

They can tell you they loved it, and mean it. That’s great feedback. If they didn’t love it but they’re afraid to tell you so they say they loved it anyway, that’s destructive.

They can rip it apart, tell you it’s horrible and you should rework the entire thing. If said so bluntly, that’s destructive, but if they can give you detailed points and tell you what’s not working, and they can do so in a polite manner, that’s constructive.

Sometimes the best way to help someone is to be honest, but even negative points can be brought to light with respect. A person who spends any amount of time creating something deserves that. They deserve your honesty and your respect. If they’re asking you to review their work, it’s obvious they trust you, and if your the one being asked to help, and you accept, I’d like to think you respect them because you’re offering them your time. Ripping them apart isn’t the answer if you don’t like what they’ve created. First you need to ask yourself some questions.

Did you volunteer for the right task? Is this something you appreciate on a personal level? Is it a genre you like to read, or a type of art you enjoy? If it’s not, your being destructive just by taking it on in the first place. How can you, someone who doesn’t enjoy what your jumping into, be expected to like it? The most helpful thing you can do at this point is to respectfully decline. Being honest and saying “This just isn’t my cup of tea.” is the most constructive thing you can do at this point.

My next point is to the writer, or creator of the art.

Understand that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There will always be people that don’t like your work, but that doesn’t mean you have to change it. It isn’t possible for you to appeal to everyone, so don’t try. Rather than throwing out a little to everyone, nail your target audience. Give them exactly what they want, and as much of it as you can. You can’t make it so everyone loves what you create, but you can make sure what you create is geared exactly for your audience.

If the situation arises where you’ve found the right person to review your work and they suggest changes, that doesn’t mean you have  to make those changes. You take what they have to offer, and give is some thought. Maybe their suggestions are only going to satisfy their personal taste. It doesn’t mean their suggestion is useless, it only means it won’t better the project as a whole.

As a writer, I understand the difficulty in this. It’s hard to get advice or suggestions from people. You want to take everything they said and make the changes accordingly, but that doesn’t always work. You need to step back, lay everything out on the table, and review your options. It might mean taking a little from everyone, and melding it in a way that really works for you. It might mean ignoring everyone and going your own route.

Whichever you decide to do, remember this is yours. You trust these people enough to help you, so don’t brush their opinion away like it’s nothing. They respect you enough to give you their time, so respect them enough to hear their thoughts.

At the end of the day, it’s your project, don’t let anyone take that away from you, but remember, just as someone can be constructive or destructive with criticism or your work, the same applies when dealing with their feedback. Mutual respect is deserved on both fronts.


  1. Really blunt and thorough criticism can be hard to take even under the best circumstances, but it gets easier. And it, um, builds character… or something? 🙂 It helps if the person delivering the feedback is someone you know well and trust, both on personal and expertise/knowledge levels.

  2. Absolutely. I don't have a problem with blunt criticism, but I think there is a certain level of tact that can be applied. In other words, don't say “This sucks,” when “It needs a lot of work, lets brainstorm on how to get where you want to be,” works equally as well. Maybe not in so many words, but you get the idea.

  3. I agree – and if the person is writerly or bookish at all, he/she should have the verbal skills to be tactful! 🙂

  4. I never mind criticism as long as it comes from a place of making the piece better. As you said above, “this sucks” is not going to do anything except make me feel crappy; comments like that do not give me any indication of how I can improve the story.

    I also agree that it's important to remember the story is ours. If a critique partner or beta reader has an issue with something, I prefer to work through it together. I try and get them to explain why that scenario isn't plausible. Then, after careful consideration, I can evaluate if it needs to be cut or changed.

    Good post. I also read your biography tab. We have lots in common. Quite a bit, actually.

  5. That's great Paul! Thanks for the comment. Glad I'm not alone in my thoughts on this one.

    Nobody wants to hear their work sucks, but it is a lot easier to take when done with a level of mannerisms and said person is willing to work through it with you. That's the definitey advantage to having awesome beta readers that you trust, working with you.

    I missed out on a lot of the advantages a group of trusted beta readers can offer when I wrote Exiled. It took me a lot longer to get the book where I wanted it, and where it needed to be. I won't have those same issues with the book 2, Shift. I've already got some unbeleivable readers lined up that will make it the best it can be.

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