Writing Tip: The Feedback Sandwich

Before the current Sydney lockdown, in the Saturday 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.

Do you have a writing group? Do you find it useful?

4 thoughts on “Writing Tip: The Feedback Sandwich

  1. Hi Libby,

    I do have a writing group. I started it last year up here on the Central Coast. At the moment there are only three of us. I hope we can find a few more.

    I love the sandwich model. I have been in groups before and I used to cringe when a ‘writer’ defended what they had written when someone made some constructive criticism. I would think, ‘Why are you in a writing group if you don’t want to find out where your writing could be improved.’

    After lockdown, I am going to give the ‘feedback sandwich’ a test drive.



    Liked by 2 people

    1. good to hear from you, Sean. sorry it’s taken me awhile to respond. that’s excellent news that you like the feedback sandwich model. let me know how it goes when we are finally out of lockdown and you can give it a go. i must say that i find having writing as my focus gets me through these very tough times. take care, Libby

      Liked by 1 person

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