Becoming a better writer is a natural goal all authors and aspiring authors have.
But the road ahead isn’t always clear.
While reading books on improving your writing skills is invaluable, learning a simple process where you can see the results is just as important.
In my own writing journey, I’ve discovered a secret technique that I know will make you a better writer.
You won’t need anything special, just the willingness to join an online writing community, let yourself be critiqued, then build upon the feedback. But there’s a little more too it than simply handing your work over to a writing group.
I call it The Critique Feedback Loop. The keyword is loop. Submitting the same piece for critique over and over again, improving on it with each iteration, and watching your weakness melt away one by one.
The Critique Feedback Loop
What is the critique feedback loop. In short, it’s a five-step process that’s repeated again and again.
- Write a draft (1000 – 4000 words).
- Share the draft with a critique good group. Emphasis on good. For me it’s /r/DestructiveReaders.
- Make changes based on feedback.
- Submit again.
- Repeat 3 and 4 until changes are no longer significant.
Through this process, your writing quality will naturally improve. It’s like the author’s version of exercise. That’s enough intro, let’s dive in.
Why it makes you a better writer
Every round of criticism has been focused on one of my weaknesses. First was character, then setting, now structure. It’s amazing to see my previous weaknesses no longer getting mentioned as new ones emerge.
If you want to see proof that your writing is getting better, there’s no better way than submitting the same piece over and over after each rewrite.
But this only works if your writing community is: 1) blunt, 2) informative, and 3) has a culture of 1:1 critique ratios.
Let’s break down what a constructive community looks like.
How constructive /r/DestructiveReaders can be
/r/DestructiveReaders is the best feedback loop I’ve ever found. Better than in-person writers workshops. Better than any other message board or online community I’ve been a part of. But why is that?
1. The attitude
When you submit your work to /r/DestructiveReaders, you are fully aware that people are there to give you unfiltered feedback without much regard for your feelings.
They’re not being dicks, but they will tear your writing apart if they don’t like it. They’ll mention line by line what bothers them, what you can improve, and what you’re missing all together.
Nothing makes you a better writer than having your flaws bluntly pointed out to you.
Often this will come with suggestions for improvements, and it’s up to you to filter through the suggestions and choose what to work on. Of course, if someone is pointing out a weakness, it’s also up to you to consciously improve it.
2. The 1:1 ratio, aka don’t be a leech
If you submit a piece to critique without first critiquing someone else’s work of equal or greater word count, you’ll be labeled a leech. Don’t be a leech.
But you know what? That’s how it should be. First, it keeps the critiques coming, keeps the tone civil (even when the critique is brutal), and it teaches you as a writer the clear line of what you like and don’t like in a piece.
As I read others’ works, I have to think hard about why I don’t like the sentence structure, or why a piece’s character development doesn’t work, etc.
When I then turn to write my own work, the critiques I wrote for other writers is fresh in my head, actively forcing me to cut out the passive voice, build the setting, and make the characters feel real.
3. Line edits
There are two phases to most /r/DestructiveReaders critiques: 1) line edit, 2) critique essay. Both are very useful but cover very different things.
We use Google Docs to share our work, and line edits come through the built-in commenting feature.
Line edits tend to focus on style, grammar, dialog, confusing passages, etc. This will lead to a lot of quick fixes to your text, but I don’t think that’s where the real value comes from.
The real value comes when you sit to write the next day. You know for a fact what you’re struggling with now. Your weakness might surprise you.
4. The Critique
First, let me say that I have not received a bad critique.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve received fairly brutal ones, but they have always led to significant improvement in my work. The amount of work /r/DestructiveReaders users put into their feedback is staggering.
Most critiques begin with a short paragraph on what the reader liked and didn’t like. That’s followed by an in-depth, point by point essay that often exceeds the length of two pages or more.
Everyone critiques slightly differently, but there is a trend to focus on the title, style, plot, character, pacing, etc. individually.
This format, in particular, is so helpful, because it helps you as a writer see the boundaries between these skills, and inform you of what techniques you’re using incorrectly and how they affect the reader.
The feedback loop
Sure, you can submit a piece, make changes and move on.
If your goal is to get the most words critiqued over the shortest period of time, then this makes sense.
But if your goal is to improve your writing, then submitting the same piece after making significant changes will be much more informative.
The reason for this is simple. Most pieces have one pronounced weakness and several less obvious ones.
The first round will likely focus on that weakness, which allows you to go back and improve it.
But if you don’t re-submit your work after the changes are made, you’ll miss out on discovering the next pronounced weakness that’s been lurking just a layer deep.
Submit a piece to get critiqued, wait at least three days for the critiques to come in, make significant adjustments, then submit again.
Once your critiques only point out minor mistakes, then move on to your next segment to get critiqued. Pro tip: use this list of 41 questions to help improve your writing and guide your changes.
This is a slow and deliberate process, so you can’t let it hold back you’re overall progress.
Keep on writing green field words, reading your critiques, and adjusting your writing process accordingly. In this way your entire work benefits without your progress coming to a halt.
What if I want to submit, but I’m too nervous.
That’s normal. I’m terrified every time I share a piece of writing. Terrified but excited. I know my writing isn’t for everybody, there are plenty of people who don’t like my genre or my style, but that’s fine.
You can’t please everyone, so don’t try. Instead, focus on writing what you like to write, and then take the criticism with gusto. Even someone who hates your piece will give you valuable advice. And if it’s brutal, if people just rip your work apart, be thankful and start making changes.
On the flip side, if you’re lucky, people will actually enjoy your work. You may gain a small group of authors who regularly read your writing because they genuinely enjoy helping you.
So, yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s natural to be scared or nervous. Power through, it’ll be worth it.
I hope you found this blog post on how to become a better writer useful. If you’re new to this development diary and want to follow along my entire writing process as I write Grim Curio, consider following me on Twitter.