Writers. Creative. Expressive. Maybe a little sensitive. If you work with writers, it’s important to understand how to facilitate their growth. This means a careful balancing act. Todd Henry calls it Herding Tigers. He’s not wrong.
I manage a team of writers for a living. In addition to my own company, I also coach writers and train writers in other companies. So I have considerable experience and have learned a lot about how to give feedback to a writer.
Here’s what I think works.
Writer Feedback Tips
First, a little about the types of people who become writers. I think there are three broad categories that you should learn to help you provide writer feedback more effectively:
The Creative Writer
Some writers are inherently creative. They may be people who got an MFA but they approach writing as a creative discipline. Here’s how I’d describe them:
- Highly focused on the craft
- Sensitive to their own skill development
- Ambitious about creating their own work in their own name
- Great with narrative
- Flexible and able to use a lot of voices and styles
Giving a Creative Writer Feedback
A creative writer has great instincts. I have found them to be very highly talented, even when less trained. With some refinement and a lot of practice, they probably have the most potential to expand the scope of their capabilities.
An example of a great creative writer on my team is Taylor. She has a robust personal writing practice as well as being a prolific writer for HAW clients. See an example of her work here:
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To give a creative writer feedback…
Go deep. Even if you think they’re sensitive, their sense of wanting to hone the craft should supersede that and you can really get in there and be meticulous about calling out what you like or don’t like and what works or doesn’t work. They can almost always take it and will be better for it.
Be specific. Don’t default to generalities. Give highly targeted feedback and criticism as needed, even down to word choices or styling. They’ll pick it up fast.
Be technical. The one area many creative writers need to work on is their technical writing abilities. They can tend to be long-winded and wordy. They need to learn brevity and clarity. Use technical feedback to help them shape their writing into a more neatly ordered, understandable piece of work.
The Independent Writer
By “independent writer” I mean someone who has their own voice and style. Unlike a creative writer, they’re less skilled at being a chameleon, which means they really have to learn the art of ghostwriting (if that’s what they want to do). They tend to have a very distinct and unique personal voice. This can be limiting if they don’t learn to flex but also makes them very valuable in highly niched situations.
An example of a great independent writer on my team is Mark. His voice is so funny, so sharp, and so cool. See an example of his work here:
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To give an independent writer feedback…
Be permissive. Independent writers typically have a threshold for how much they are able or willing to change their personal voice/style, even for a client. It’s doing them a disservice to try to square-peg-round-hole them into a format they won’t thrive in. I’ve found doing this often grinds their creative energy down to dust. Set them up for success and then let them loose a little, even choosing not to edit things that “aren’t how you would do them” but that showcase their pizzazz.
Be collaborative. Independent writers need to feel celebrated for their distinctness. They often benefit best from collaborative editing or live feedback, because it gives you a better ability to explain what you mean. That nuance can make the difference between them accepting or rejecting your recommendations.
Be discerning. There is a time to make an independent writer edit something and a time to acknowledge they may not be a good fit for a specific client or style.
The Marketing Writer
Marketing writers are one of the best resources you will ever find. What I mean by a marketing writer is this: they don’t want to be a novelist, they aren’t going to run off and join a news team, and they understand how copy fits into the goals of marketing and even a business at large.
They are calibrated to the utility of great copywriting, which is an immense value if you are leading a marketing department or team of writers.
An example of one of the best marketing writers you will ever find is Ross. He can do it all, writing for any client about virtually any topic. He can also do strategy, manage clients, write reports, and more.
See an example of his work here:
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To give a marketing writer feedback…
Be descriptive. Explain WHY something needs to change. They’ll understand and it will enable them to make directional changes in the full body of work. They want to and need to wrap their heads around the big picture.
Be direct. The personality type of this writer often aligns with what they’re good at, meaning they’re more businesslike and to the point. You don’t have to beat around the bush. You can just edit their work and give in-depth feedback without needing it to be relational or cushioned.
Be consistent. The best gift you can give a writer with this aptitude is consistency. If you can help them roadmap their skill development, and support it through thoughtful feedback, they’ll grow fast and go further.
Giving Feedback to a Writer
Be timely — Writers don’t have some magical, encyclopedic knowledge of everything we write. If you let too much time lag between when a writer submits something and when you give feedback, it will go stale in their minds and be harder to make heads or tails of.
Be engaged — Many good writers (especially the first two types) will have questions about feedback. This can be frustrating because it demands more of you, but if you are generous with your time and engage with them, they’ll learn and you won’t be repeating yourself in the future.
Be patient — The better you can foresee the potential a writer has, the better you’ll be able to gauge how much time you should spend providing feedback. Not everyone is going to be excellent. But some will, and they only will if they get the right guidance along the way. Be patient and observant and you’ll find the people who are really going to excel.
Want someone who can get in and provide this kind of guidance and feedback to your writers? It’s what we at Hire a Writer have spent our careers doing, and we’ve equipped dozens of successful writers who are out in the world making a major impact.
Get in touch to learn about writer and training and workshops.