Monday, March 21, 2011

How to: Reader response by Katie

The Red Dress Club is a virtual writer's society.  If you are recently new to what we do here, or if you have been following along, but haven't really "gotten" us, please take a minute to read the About Page.  No really, go read it.

Our vision here is to not only give you prompts to write to, but to help you become a better step outside your comfort wear your red dress.

In many ways, we are a writer's workshop.  We offer you ways to learn and grow.

Yes, I write up little "lessons" here from time to time about what makes good writing, but the real way to know if your writing is "good" is to ask your audience.

Comments are the single most important tool for you to become a better writer. 

I know we have talked at length during our Wednesday evening twitter chats about the importance of constructive criticism.  And through the comments many of you make, we have become concerned that some of you are more interested in getting a lot of comments out there onto blogs (and getting them in return), and are not so interested in the QUALITY of those comments.

When you write a piece for a workshop such as The Red Dress Club, you are not posting for blog traffic.  You are posting to get feedback on your writing.

This week we had to delete a number of linked up posts that had nothing to do with our prompt.

So how can you be sure your comments are helpful to the author?  Here are some do's and don't's of Reader Response in a Writing Workshop:

  1. Give your reaction to the piece as a whole.  What emotions did it stir in you?  What was your knee-jerk feeling toward the piece.
  2. Point out what you liked and be specific.  If you liked the imagery, give the author a line or two that you especially liked.  This will help the author to "do more of that" when they write next time.
  3. Let the author know if you related to the piece.  Again, be specific.  Which parts spoke to you?
  4. Point out anything that was confusing.  It is not just want to let the author know that too many words or too much description was distracting.  As authors, we do not want to distract from the good in our piece!  So we need to know what didn't work.
  5. Point out things that didn't flow.  Where there parts that seemed out of place?  Or maybe didn't seem necessary to the main message of the post?
  6. When in doubt, use the "comment sandwich" approach.  This works especially well with new commenters.  I have my writing classes start with this technique:  Mention a specific thing you loved; mention something that could use work; end with something else that was great.
  1. Be vague.  Saying "I liked this!"and nothing else is not helpful. It's Ok to start with "I like this!" but then tell WHY!  We link up to learn to be better and to learn our strengths.
  2. Patronize.  If you don't like ANYTHING about a post, and you don't know how to comment? Don't comment at all.  Move on to something else. 
  3. Ask them to visit yours unless it is incredibly similar and you would like their take.  Even then, that is better to do via twitter or email than in their comments.  The comments should be reserved to be about THEIR writing.  Not yours.
  4. Skim the reading and leave a quick comment.  Unfortunately we are seeing a lot of this.  People quick skim the post, leave a quick, "oh I hate rain!" comment, and then move on.  This borders on being rude. By doing this, you are telling the author that you did not take the time to pick up the nuances or the subtleties of his/her writing; you didn't take time to process or enjoy his/her words; you just looked at what it was "about" and quickly let them know you were there.
On the opposite side of this, we have seen some amazing writing and some very encouraging and helpful comments.

Your challenge this week is to go for quality over quantity in your comments.  Yes, we all love to get comments, but let's make them really worthwhile.

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