3 Parts to the Feedback Sandwich

'The Crystal Ballroom' on bookshelf at bookstore

Yesterday, in the Saturday-afternoon feedback group, we began talking about the ‘off with his head’ or ‘out-it-goes’ part of writing.  We acknowledged that as a group we’d always been very supportive and encouraging of each others work.  That is because we are all in it together.  Our critiquing was not telling lies; it was from a place of open-hearted acceptance.  Everything you put on the page is acceptable.

Sometimes someone says, ‘I want a rigorous no-holds-barred assessment of my work.’  But what do you say to them when the writing is dull and boring?  Don’t give up your day job?  It doesn’t sit comfortably with most of us to be directly critical of someone’s writing.  It’s like telling someone how ugly their baby is.  All of us find it hard to separate our writing from ourselves, and are prone to take criticism personally.

The feedback sandwich is a widely known technique for giving constructive feedback, by ‘sandwiching’ the criticism between two pieces of praise or compliments.

hamburger with cheese and two beef patties

As we passed around copies of our work (just a page or two) we started to address what William Faulkner famously said:

‘In writing, you must kill all your darlings.’

First of all, we looked for the juice in each piece.  Where did the writing come alive?  ‘Get rid of the rest,’ we said.  ‘Off with his head—out it goes.’   It’s very difficult to be this honest, and not everyone wants to hear it.  ‘I simply want gentle support and a few corrections,’ some of us might say.

Be willing to have the courage to look at your work with truthfulness.  It’s good to know where your writing has energy and vitality, rather than to spend a lot of time trying to make something come to life that is dead on the page.   Keep writing.  Something new will come up.    You don’t want to put your readers to sleep by writing a lot of boring sentences.

I hope these suggestions are useful. Do you have any tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.  

12 thoughts on “3 Parts to the Feedback Sandwich

  1. As I see it, there are three types of criticism: (a) honest, (b) dishonest, and (c) silence. The best of these is honest criticism. If it is positive, it is reassuring; if it is negative, you can learn from it and thereby improve your writing. Either way, you benefit from it. Dishonest criticism, on the other hand, is either flattery or malice and is best ignored because it is only intended to benefit the critic. But silence – when someone reads your work and then declines to talk about it – is the most discouraging criticism of all because it haunts you unremittingly and gives nothing in return.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. yes, so true. three kinds of criticism: honest, dishonest and silence. sometimes people chose to remain silent in a feedback group because they do not have the courage to give criticism, or they realise that writing is subjective. so, just because they don’t relate to a particular piece of writing, it doesn’t mean the writing is no good. constructive criticism is a tough gig. it takes courage. also, just because someone can write, doesn’t mean they are able to give useful feedback on another person’s writing 🙂 thanks very much for your thoughtful comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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