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The last thing you want to do is stunt an aspiring writer (and possible future bestseller), and cause them to lose the love they have for writing.

I am an English Literature and Creative Writing Graduate fresh out of university. I have participated in numerous lectures, seminars and workshops; I have read book-after-book, written story-after-story, annotated, discussed… and I have watched as my classmates and I developed throughout those three years.

Yet, when it comes to the seminars and workshops there is an unwritten rule people seem to forget, more so when it comes to Creative Writing. The rule is: if someone is to submit their work you are not to speak negatively – you are to provide constructive criticism only.

This is because sharing creative work is an arduous task. Whether you’re submitting a whole novel, a chapter, or a single paragraph, you should realise that the words printed on that page is a part of the writer – and possibly a side you’ve yet to be introduced to. Which is why, no matter how skilled you are (or believe to be) when it comes to the written word, there is a way you should tackle another person’s creativity.

Which is why, no matter how skilled you are (or believe to be) when it comes to the written word, there is a way you should tackle another person’s creativity.

Basing this on my own experiences, people seem to forget that there will be certain individuals in your group who are both anxious and self-conscious about what they have written. I am one of them. I am unable to let people read my work because I am both a perfectionist and suffer from low self-esteem. I went through high school and sixth form being told my creative writing was my strongest quality, yet the thought of sitting in a room full of strangers and having to listen to them discuss my work while I had to sit there quietly… that distressed me.

And it became worse as people seemed to forget the golden rule.

It took until my second year for my epiphany to arise. I soon realised through the marks I was gaining that my writing was not an abysmal; that I could take what people were saying. Soon enough my confidence advanced and it enabled me to block out the comments that were not construed appropriately.

I am a firm believer of if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.

However, this does not mean I think you should sugar-coat your opinions. It also does not mean you are unable to say something at all – it simply means that you should be tactful, especially so when it comes to a person’s creativity. Creativity is fluid, there is no right or wrong, and everyone has different tastes when it comes to writing. E.g. you’re not a fan of fantasy, that character’s dialogue feels forced, or that metaphor doesn’t sit well with you.

Creativity is fluid, there is no right or wrong, and everyone has different tastes when it comes to writing.

But there are ways you should address the writer when expressing your opinions:

1. Take away all your personal feelings; stay neutral. Whether the writer is a friend, family member, or someone you dislike, there should be no personal feelings affecting the way you view their work. It’s easier said than done, but a must-do. I have overheard a lot of people speak harshly of other people’s work because they do not get on well together on a personal level.

2. Leave the ego at the door. Everyone in that classroom is there to learn. Whether you believe you’re better than everyone else (and maybe you are, who knows!) that does not give you entitlement. If anything, it will make people like you less and, when push comes to shove, they will probably be more critical of your work and forgo all politeness, just like you. For example, there was someone in my seminars who would never say one good thing about another’s work. He believed he was the next scripture of our generation (and even believed it was okay to write a piece criticizing the people in our class). Confidence is great, but be careful not to place yourself on a higher pedestal than everyone else.

3. Thirdly, and this comes from the mouth of one of my seminar leaders, say something nice before stating what you do not like about the piece, and then also end on a good note. For example, you like the direction of the plot and it’s drawing you in, but the way the character talks seems forced and there are some grammatical errors… but those character’s flaws are simple to fix, maybe go and overhear some conversations in a café so you know how to make speech more realistic?

4. Ask yourself, is that criticism warranted? I’ve touched upon how writing is lucid, and all about personal preferences. You don’t like romantic stories? Then don’t come down harshly on the genre. Genres have their own specific writing styles. I’m not a fan of fantasy because it’s very heavy; full of long descriptions and very long-winded. Yet I can appreciate whether the text is well written and makes sense.

5. Lastly, know when to stop giving feedback. It’s easy to find yourself tumbling into a landslide. You begin your constructive criticism and praises and the next thing you know, you’re finding more and more things to critique and then pile them on, tagging extra things on the end. This can become overwhelming for the writer. Harping on all the negative aspects at once isn’t going to help them. Keep it sweet and to the point.

Of course, there are many ways to provide constructive criticism. These points are the ones I have learnt and deemed important due to my own experiences. I am also not saying you can’t voice your own opinions – of course you can! All I am saying is that you should think about how you are carrying yourself, and think about how you would like to be addressed. The last thing you want to do is stunt an aspiring writer (and possible future bestseller), and cause them to lose the love they have for writing.

About The Author

Profile photo of Sophie Goodall

Originates from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, UK. Graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London with a degree in English Literature and Creative writing. Aspiring novelist; lover of films and filmmaking; forever exploring a deeper meaning in everything. Travelled Australia and Japan, and am now a paid writer and editor.

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