Getting Feedback on Writing, or Why Writers Need Readers

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Photo by “Brooke Cagle” on Unsplash.

This post was written by Grace McCright, a second-year master’s student in the English Department.

One of the most important parts of my writing process is talking. This may sound odd, since we normally think about writing as a silent, solitary activity. But whether we recognize it or not, writing is always an act of communication; however silent and solitary we may be as we write, there is always someone at the other end of our writing who is receiving the message we are conveying. Since we often can’t see this person as we’re writing, one of the best ways to simulate their response is to talk to someone else about your writing.

My first semester in grad school I felt overwhelmed by the amount and quality of writing that was expected of me. I spent so long working on my first paper, poring over it for hours on my own, not knowing if it truly met the requirements for the assignment or if it clearly said what I intended it to say. Two of my friends, fellow first year grad students, had mentioned to me that they also felt similarly anxious about their papers; we decided to have a paper swap night, where we would all bring our essays and swap them, offering each other feedback and impressions as readers. We made it fun, too, going out for pizza together before starting to read. Though we were all a little nervous about sharing our work, the feedback we were able to give each other was so helpful! I remember one of them pointing out places in my paper where they got lost or where they felt I was being repetitive; likewise, I remember pointing out similar things in their papers. Leaving that dinner, we all had a clearer idea of what we needed to do to improve our papers; we also felt more confident knowing that someone else had read our work and understood our general idea!

Now, I actively seek feedback on pretty much everything I write. Instead of worrying about what the other person may think or whether or not they will like my writing, I try to cultivate an attitude of humility and a desire for growth; if I truly want my writing to be the best it can be, then I will take any and all feedback I can get. Here’s a few ways you can seek feedback on your writing:

1. Just talk to someone! It could be a roommate, a friend, or a parent. Just putting your idea into words can be so helpful in working through an idea!

2. Join a writing group! One of the best decisions I made this semester as I’m working on my master’s thesis has been joining a writing group. My writing group meets once a week for a few hours; when we meet, we spend a few minutes just talking about where we are at with our writing and then spend the rest of the time working on our individual projects. Every month or so, we read what each other has written. This format works for us, but you can make your group as formal or informal as you want! It could be as simple as inviting a friend from class over to your apartment to work on your papers together. You can keep each other accountable for working on the project, and you can pause and talk out your ideas with your friend when you get stuck.

3. Make an appointment at the UWC! At any point in the writing process, even the all-I-have-is-a-half-baked-idea stage, you can make an appointment to talk with a writing consultant. Writing consultants can help you create an outline, talk through your ideas, and work on revising existing writing.

Whatever option you choose, don’t believe the lie that writing is merely an individual process, for you and your professor’s red pen alone. Instead, take a risk and talk about your work with someone you trust; you won’t regret it!

Photo by “Christine” on Unsplash.

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