Good vs. Bad Writing Feedback

There are two kinds of feedback: useful feedback that helps you grow as a writer and strengthens your work OR bad feedback that is impossible to satisfy and doesn’t teach you anything. 

Bad feedback is:

  • Vague
  • Prescriptive
  • Unkind

Some examples of bad feedback:

“I don’t know why, but I don’t like it.”

“The voice needs to be stronger.”


“You must use XX method to rewrite/fix YY.”

“The writing is bad/amateurish/stupid.”

“The topic is boring.”

“You should maybe try some other hobby.”


Good feedback is:

  • Specific
  • Collaborative
  • Kind

Some example of good feedback:

“Your character’s motivation isn’t consistent. For example, on page 5…”

“I found myself skimming in chapter 4.”

“The three paragraphs on page 35 felt like an info dump of the character’s childhood. Is there any way you can pepper that in throughout the story instead of all at once?”

“I love how because your character is a chef, she describes emotions and situations like specific foods or taste profiles.”

“You seem to be having some trouble with proper grammar and punctuation–I marked a few spots in chapter one to give you an idea. You might want to refresh yourself on some of the rules or use a program like Grammarly to check your work before submitting it.”

Feedback that centers the giver instead of the writer’s growth is bad feedback best filtered out. Good feedback centers the writer with actionable ways to grow and learn. Good feedback points out the positives as well as the not-quite-theres. Good feedback has potential in it. Good feedback is direct, but not mean or unkind. 

Now, here’s the sticking point. Sometimes good feedback still doesn’t feel good. It might be something we don’t want to hear or point out a weakness we weren’t aware of, or worse, one we are aware of and hoped didn’t shine through. You may not always agree with good feedback, but good feedback challenges. Growth is hard. But good feedback is the kind that after you sit with it for a bit of time, you can use to motivate, inform, and guide your next steps. Feedback is the fertilizer and you need the right kind for the right plant in order to see the right results. 

But leave that bad feedback in the compost pile. You don’t need it. 

So, how do you filter out bad feedback?

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this feedback actionable? Can I take something from this to make my manuscript better?
  • Is this feedback kind? Insults about your abilities or the quality of your work are rarely helpful and probably say something about the feedback giver rather than you’re skill. Mean feedback can always be discarded. Be careful, however, that you don’t confuse direct with mean. Direct feedback is clear and may not be what you want to hear, but if it’s given with kindness and care for your writing journey, give it a listen.
  • Is this feedback appropriate to my specific story? “I hate alien stories” doesn’t mean you should rewrite your whole book if it’s a sci-fi, alien invasion story, it might mean you picked the wrong person to give you feedback. “Where does this alien fit in your story?” might mean something else if you have written a historical romance where a UFO suddenly appears.
  • Does this feedback scare me? Here’s where it can be tricky–feedback that scares you because you now are filled with self-doubt after a particularly aggressive giver wants to prove their own superior knowledge of literature is different from feedback that scares you because you aren’t sure you can handle the changes. Focus on the one that intimidates your skills a little bit. That’s the feedback that will put you on the path to growing your craft.

Remember that all readers are coming to your writing with their own experiences and history. One person may not respond well to a character because they bite their nails and their little brother used to bite their nails and flick the debris at them to get on their nerves. That may not be something you need to consider changing. Be watching for feedback, however, if someone points out problematic, stereotypical, or hurtful language to a particular race, ethnicity, or lived experience. I once inadvertently used a descriptor that was insensitive but didn’t realize it was. Once my reader pointed out why, I was more than happy to change it. Be open to learning from whatever your readers’ experiences are so you can make adjustments that will help your story and your empathy for the reader.

Are you ready for some helpful feedback on your story? Let’s talk about it on a free discovery call!

Published by Monica Cox

Monica is a writer and book coach who helps writers get unstuck so they can reach their writing goals.

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