It might even be your BEST friend. I know that may sound a little crazy, considering how painful feedback on your work can be. People want you to delve deeper, to kill your darlings, change your setting, edit or delete that line of prose you were super attached to.
Also, honestly? It feels great when someone just gushes over your work and tells you how wonderful it is, but in the long run that sort of thing doesn’t help your writing.
Getting feedback and giving feedback will help you improve your writing. People with fresh eyes can find errors and holes you are not going to see because you are too close to the work. When you in turn look at their work, you may see things like grammar or spelling errors that will make your mind more acutely aware of those sorts of mistakes in your own work. When giving feedback, remember these simple tips to make sure it is construction criticism, rather than destructive:
Remember to include some positive with the negative
I got my degree in teaching, and in my undergraduate program there was one particular lesson I heard over and over again. “For every 1 negative, you’ve got to give 5 positives.” Now, I don’t think you have to be that drastic when you are helping someone revise a piece of writing, but it sure is easier to swallow the salt with spoonful of sugar. If you give both positive and negative feedback, you may bolster the writer’s motivation to finish or revise their work.
Ask the person what kind of feedback they are looking for
I usually ask if they just want basic grammar and editing, plot help, or something else entirely. This can help solve a lot of confusion for both the person giving feedback and the person getting it. If they just wanted you to proofread and you come back with a brand new outline of plot points for them, it may be kind of disheartening. On the opposite end, if you just proofread and they were hoping for some in depth analysis, they may not ask you again to help them with their work. That means you’ve lost an opportunity to grow as a writer through feedback.
Another way this helps, is you then have an idea of how much time the feedback is going to require. A dear friend recently asked if I would help edit his book. He has a phenomenal story to tell, but as I looked at the manuscript I realized that I probably did not have the right skills for the job and that I did not have the time to do it. This way, he was able to go on to find someone really right for the job and I was able to decline a job that might have taken time I didn’t have to spare.
Try not to rewrite the entire piece of writing
This probably seems like pretty straight forward advice, but you would be surprised how often writer’s I’ve known have fallen prey to the need to rewrite an entire piece. Your voice is going to be different from the other writers you interact with, and that is a good thing! It also means that you have to let their voice shine through in their pieces of writing. The only time I can recommend trying to do a heavy rewrite, is if their grammar is heavily broken. Even then, I suggest you show them how to fix the grammar in some of the opening paragraphs and then suggest they take some classes to help them improve their writing. There are lots of places on the internet where they can take classes and learn some of the basics for free, even some Universities off classes.
By reading the writing of others, I’ve found that I have learned so much about myself as a writer. Two of my best friends write pieces that sound like poetry, and though that is a skill I don’t have, it is one I would like to develop. By providing them with feedback, I am able to learn more about their process. When it boils down to it, one of the best ways to learn to be a better writer is to think critically about writing, and what better way to do that then to provide feedback for others and help them improve along the way.