Writing Tip: The Feedback Sandwich

people coffee meeting team

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 was because we were 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

Yesterday, 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 stuff.

What about you? What works or doesn’t work for you in critique groups?  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. 


4 thoughts on “Writing Tip: The Feedback Sandwich

  1. I am surprised how many critiquers forget to say the good and the bad. I actually had to interrupt one of my groupmembers as he excoriated my writing with “Now say something good.” He really struggled to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A couple of weeks ago I reached a point with my latest project, a novel, where I was tossing up whether to persevere with it (when at first you don’t succeed, and all that) or pull the plug and stop flogging a dead horse; so I took your earlier advice and sent a copy of the manuscript to my cousin who used to be an English teacher and now, in retirement, writes poetry. I don’t normally share my writing with other people because I write for my own amusement and therefore the only reader I have to impress is myself; but on this occasion I was failing even to do that. The novel is written in three parts and after reading the first of them my cousin replied somewhat effusively (she was hanging on every word, apparently): “…that is a great piece of writing and I am so proud of you.” But it was the second part that was giving me grief so I waited anxiously for her next missive. It came yesterday. It was brief. And it concluded with the statement: “The whole world should read your book, and I hope you have world-wide acclaim.’ Really? So now I am confused. The words were encouraging but prosody suggested otherwise. Or am I simply a victim of my own confirmation bias? As Paul Simon said: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

    Liked by 1 person

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