[ETA] Examples have been added for the Types, Comment, and Advice sections. Also, the merits of each type of feedback have been fleshed out a bit. Hopefully, this article is more balanced.

So You’ve Gotten Some Feedback

…and you disagree with parts of it. Do you ignore it on the grounds that they don’t know your story as well as you, do you force yourself to accept and follow it because the audience knows best, or do you take all things with a grain of salt? If the last, how do you decide which parts of the feedback are valid and which are not?

First things first, you need to figure out which type of feedback you’ve received.

The Types of Feedback

For the purposes of this article, we’ll say that there are three main classes of feedback: critique, commentary, and advice. Of these three, critique is generally the most valuable as it combines the merits of both commentary and advice.

Advice — suggestions for improvement given by someone with equal or greater experience in the same field; may be generalized


“I’m often asked if writing classes are any help, and my immediate and enthusiastic answer is always, Yes! Writing classes are wonderful for the writers who teach them and can’t make ends meet without that supplementary income. They are also good places for unattached people to meet, talk about books and movies, have a few drinks and possibly hook up. But teach you to write? No. A writing class will not teach you to write.”

—Stephen King, “The Writing Life,” Washington Post Book World, October 1, 2006

Comment — a reader’s impressions of your writing; may not always include an explanation of why they feel that way


Wow. Just wow. The descriptions made everything so poignant and gave this story a surreal but concrete feel. Also, that you have the story told in present tense from the deserter’s PoV really makes everything so much more personal than if you’d used another tense or viewpoint.

Critique — a combination of both feedback and advice, it provides a reader’s impressions of your story and their suggestions on how you could improve it; should always include why the critiquer feels the way they feel about each element they point out and how it could be improved


It might be better if you make it clear right away that ___ is a ___. At the start of the chapter, I thought she was an outsider observing the ___ rather than being one of them herself.

Though the distinctions between these three types are not always absolute, in general, advice is concerned more with the technical aspects of writing (sentence structure, level of description employed, word choice, etc.), comment is geared towards enjoyment (“I liked/disliked this part,” “this was good/bad”), and critique is focused towards a critiquer’s impressions of the story and how they feel it could be improved. In all cases, credibility is key.


So what is credibility, and how do you determine it? Very simply, credibility is the qualifications a person (in this case the reader) has to do something (give feedback). To establish credibility, take a look at what they’ve done.

Let’s say that you’ve posted a story on a popular fiction-hosting site that allows other users to leave feedback, and that you’ve received a review that you vehemently disagree with. First things first, before you send the reviewer a scathing reply in which you passionately defend every aspect you disagreed with them upon, take a second look at the review. Does the person follow the proper spelling, capitalization, and grammar conventions? Have they supported their opinions with examples from your story? Are they even talking about your story? If the answer to all three questions is “Yes,” then generally the person can be considered fairly credible. If, on the other hand, the answer to one or more of the questions is “No,” that person is not very credible at all, and you will usually be justified in disregarding their feedback. If you are unsure, taking a look at what the person has written is always a good idea; it stands to reason that if they are a competent writer, they are a credible reviewer.

Now that you’ve established the credibility of your audience, you can determine which parts of their feedback (if any) to heed.

Dealing with Feedback


For the sake of argument, let’s say that the commenter hated your story, and they made sure you knew exactly how much they hated it and why. Before you completely disregard their opinions as irrelevant and hateful, step back a little and examine their reasoning.

If the commenter has included well thought-out and valid reasons, and you can see where they’re coming from, you cannot reject the comments. Unless your intention was to rile up people, this is a blazing neon sign that you need to go back and fix things right now. If, on the other hand, the reasons the commenter included are stupid (e.g. “I didn’t like it because the main character was a girl”) or not included at all, feel free to dismiss their comments as complete BS unless — and this is a really big unless — they are just one of many who have disliked that element.

Example of a negative comment with reasons:

So, one sobfest later, mother and daughter are all lovey dovey with no trace of awkwardness? They’ve been on bad terms for two years. That kind of history doesn’t just go away with a tearful apology and a hug. It’s a step toward mending the relationship, but it’s not a insta-cure.

Example of a (hilariously) useless comment on This Story:

wow. you young scam artist, you. no, I will not help you with your homework, and I do not appreciate the fact that a fine and quite normal, serious story turned into a silly critique of a cartoon or whatever by the end. what, is Tweety a plastic toy of something? and the last sentence hearkens too close to South Park for my liking, son. all you need is to append “You bastard!” and you’ve got it.

The same basic principle applies for accepting/rejecting positive comments; positive feedback, however, is a bit easier to accept. :P Still, while fluffy love may make you feel WAFFy, if it lacks substance (why they liked it so much) it is essentially useless.

Example of a flattering (but ultimately useless) comment:

I found this poem hilarious. XD


The cardinal rule of advice-following is to always take it with a grain of salt. Always. The thing about advice is that, while it may work wonderfully for the person giving the advice, that same advice may not work or even apply for you.

When determining how valid advice is, take a look at where the person giving the advice stands relative to you. Are your writing styles similar? Do your stories revolve around similar themes/character types/plots? Does the advice-giver write/are they well read in that genre? Basically, it can be boiled down to one question: are they credible? Above all, remember that advice is just advice; it can act as a guideline for your improvement, but it is not the end-all be-all of writing, and it most certainly works best when individualized.

Keep in mind that some forms of advice are universal. These include spelling, grammar, word choice, etc. Basically, any competent writer is qualified to provide advice on the mechanical aspects of writing, and you would do well to follow that advice. In the case of specialized advice (e.g. personal work ethic, the handling of a particular trope, etc.), if it applies to you and your story personally, embrace it. If it does not, reject it without any regrets.


Let’s say that you’ve received the most scathing and thorough critique ever. The critiquer has apparently pointed out every single aspect of your story, dissected it, and found it all lacking. You can’t argue with their reasoning: it was scrupulously expounded upon. You can’t argue with their credentials: they really know what they’re talking about and have the experience to back it up. Are you obliged to accept this critique?


“No?” you ask, likely bemused and incredulous. “But they have the experience, the credentials, the reasoning.”

True, but how many of the points they brought up are based on their own opinion? How many are dictating that you must do something this way because that’s the way they want to see it done? How much of the critique is based on personal bias against a particular genre, trope, archetype, etc.? If the answer is “a lot” or “most of it,” then that critique is not so much a critique as an “I know what’s best for you as a writer, so you must listen and do what I say” amalgamation of their own desires, outlooks, expectations, and experiences.

There’s nothing wrong with a person having and stating their strong opinions; it is when “might try” becomes “must do” concerning the subjective aspects of writing that a critique ceases being valid. Grammar and spelling aside (and even there, there’s variation), there is no absolute “right” or “wrong” way to write: only effective and not as effective, and these vary based on the intended audience. Critiquers are an audience, and any particular critiquer may not be part of your intended audience.

That said, critiques are still the most valuable form of feedback because they make you aware of how people perceive your writing, why they perceive it that way, and how you can make your writing more appealing to that portion of your audience. While a critique may be invaluable to your story in the short-run, a good critique is one that makes you think, “Oh wow! I never noticed that about my own writing!” or “I never thought about it that way,” or “That would be something interesting to write about.” A good critique expands your horizons, opening up possibilities for where you can take your writing in the future, and makes you more aware not only of where you currently stand, but where you could potentially go with your writing.

While advice can tell you how to write and give you the raw technicals (the mechanical), and comments can give you the motivation to continue writing (the emotional), good critiques make you more aware of your own writing and give you a nudge in the direction of self-awareness and development — in short, critiques help you learn about how you write and how you can harness the essence of writing.

Just as the act of writing is a very personal thing, so too is the value of a critique.

Taking Things Piecemeal

Just to be clear, simply because some feedback doesn’t fulfill all the requirements of being valuable does not mean that it is entirely worthless. So what if a commenter forgot to mention a why for this one element? If they’ve mentioned whys for all their other points, all those other points are still valid. In fact, you might find that, although that one particular point was not fully explained, you’re still considering it because all the other points were strongly supported. This is because the commenter has established themself to be credible. Even if you aren’t feeling convinced, it’s pretty petty to completely disregard someone’s opinions for a nitpicky reason. After all, even though they didn’t have to, they took time out of their day to give you this feedback.

In any case, the rule of thumb for accepting/rejecting feedback is this — evaluate each item of feedback individually with a mind for the overall. Take what is useful, leave what isn’t, and, above all, make sure it applies to you.


No type of feedback should be accepted or rejected blindly. Take only what works best for you.

P.S. — What are you doing writing if you’re too lazy to read? :P

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  1. Puppet on 6 November 2009, 14:50 said:

    Heh, nice article, Kyllorac. :D

  2. Aquanaut on 6 November 2009, 15:28 said:

    Out of curiosity, what’s mean “TL;DR” ?

  3. Kyllorac on 6 November 2009, 15:39 said:

    @Puppet – Thanks

    @Aquanaut – TL;DR = Too Long; Didn’t Read

  4. NeuroticPlatypus on 6 November 2009, 22:18 said:

    Nice article.

  5. Snow White Queen on 7 November 2009, 01:49 said:

    Yay, articles on the main site again! Let’s keep this going.

    Good article, Kyrollac, on a subject that I think is relevant to a lot of people. (Or not relevant enough- I’m still scared of showing my work to my own parents, for god’s sakes.)

  6. Romantic Vampire Lover on 7 November 2009, 06:18 said:

    Ooh, nicely done Kyllorac. :D Informative and to the point.

  7. sakuuya on 8 November 2009, 03:16 said:

    I’m confused about why you’re so down on criticism. You say that advice should be kept in mind—if not necessarily obeyed—if the adviser is credible, and that writers should pay close attention to detailed comments. But your section on critiques seems to be primarily about how critics are usually biased and demanding (and thus unhelpful). If critique is a combination of comments and advice, why should it be the least reliable of the three?

    I mean, let’s say a comment takes the form of “I didn’t like X because of Y,” advice “You should do Z,” and a critique “I didn’t like X because of Y, so you should do Z.” Assuming that Z is something that doesn’t apply to a writer’s particular story, the X and Y in a critique are likely still valid, assuming they meet the credibility guidelines. I think the critique section would have been improved by noting that even if the specific proposed fix (the Z) isn’t useful, the basic complaint (the X and Y) should be paid equal heed as to a comment stating the same thing.

    It’s possible that I’m wildly misinterpreting your article. But if that’s the case, I think most of the problem is that the descriptions you used are kind of vague. It took me a while to figure out how to explain the way I THINK you’re differentiating the types of advice, and I’m not sure if my explanation is accurate. In my opinion, the delineation would’ve been clearer if you’d included a “good” example of each type of criticism for comparison, rather than just discussing each one in the abstract.

  8. Snow White Queen on 8 November 2009, 13:53 said:

    I think what Kyrollac was trying to say was that ultimately, you have to go along with what you really want to do in the end. Critique and criticisms are only suggestions, after all.

    You made a good point though.

  9. Kyllorac on 8 November 2009, 16:20 said:

    But your section on critiques seems to be primarily about how critics are usually biased and demanding (and thus unhelpful). If critique is a combination of comments and advice, why should it be the least reliable of the three?

    That wasn’t my intention at all. Critiques are generally the most reliable form of feedback, and because of this, a lot of writers have the tendency to think they must change things because those issues were brought up in a critique. The issue is not the reliability of a critique but its validity. I’ve seen a number of fellow writers receive critiques pointing out flaws that did not apply to their story, and yet those writers bent over backwards to try and fix those supposed errors to the detriment of their story. Critiques can do more harm than good because people forget that they are still only suggestions, albeit from people you hold in regard. That was the main point of that entire section.

    I agree that examples would have helped. I’ll see if I can come up with a couple of good and bad ones.

    Also, if it isn’t too much trouble, could you point out which descriptions were vague and why?

  10. sakuuya on 8 November 2009, 17:13 said:

    Well, the description of advice as concerned with technical aspects of writing at the end of the “Types of Feedback” section, but neither the initial definition earlier in that section nor the advice-specific section seems to pay attention to that. I don’t think that the validity of mechanical advice depends overmuch on how much one has in common with the adviser; if an adviser says, for instance, that a writer using semicolons incorrectly, does it matter that they write in completely different genres? The advice section was more geared toward opinion-based advice rather than the more objective, mechanical stuff you define it as initially.

    That, in turn, gave me trouble with the ‘critique = comment + advice’ thing, because my mind went “Bwuh? Critiques are pointing out flaws and talking about mechanics?” Please take that with a HUGE grain of salt, though, because I read and commented on (or, um… critiqued?) this review at 1 AM last night, so it’s entirely possible that it would have been clear if I’d come at it when I was less braindead.

    As for your intention with the critique section, I think you went too far the other way in trying to convince people to look at critiques, um, critically. Instead of “Critiques can be very helpful, but don’t blindly follow them,” it came across to me as “You shouldn’t listen to critiques because they’re only opinions.” Again, there’s a discrepancy between the definition section and the specific one. The entire critique section is about when a writer should NOT accept critiques (and even talks about grammar where the advice section does not); it doesn’t say anything about times when a critique is valid.

    Lastly, and I totally forgot to mention this last night, thank you so much for bringing this site back to life. Book reviews are nice, but I come here for writing advice and/or Twilight hilarity. So thanks.

  11. swenson on 9 November 2009, 14:48 said:

    I do have to agree with sakuuya a bit on this one… while the advice in this article is good (check for credibility before listening to critique, etc.), it does seem quite biased toward the “Don’t listen to people, do whatever you want instead” side of the spectrum. While I hope most people here are old/experienced enough to know when and when not to listen to comments/critique, I think this sort of thing is very, very dangerous to tell newer writers, who are likely to take it as “All critique is opinion”, and assume they can safely ignore it if they disagree with it. That’s not necessarily true, though- if someone credible comes up with a critique and gives a reason why, there’s almost positively something wrong on your end, regardless of whether you agree with them or not.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually disagreeing with what you say. I just think that it needs to be emphasized that the very fact that someone has a problem with your story at all probably means there really is a problem, and critique/comments/advice should only be ignored with extreme caution and on extremely rare occasions.

  12. sakuuya on 23 December 2009, 19:06 said:

    I’m still a little unsure about the critique section. The stuff you added, about how critiques help writers see their work in new ways, was good, but it still didn’t leave me with a sense that the article thinks critiques are generally the most helpful kind of feedback. Even though you talk about good critique a bit at the end, the reader’s first impression of critiques is still going to be “they’re only opinions and are therefore ignorable” because of the continued, unrelenting negativity of the section’s beginning.

    I know I said this the first time this was on here, but even if the specific fix proposed by a critique is not what a writer wants/needs to do, the underlying problem should be paid as much attention as if it were a comment saying the same thing. I wish the re-written article had reflected that, or at least not started the section with the same “Don’t listen to critiques” stuff. Maybe if you switched the order within the section around (so it started with “good critiques are awesome” and then went into why writers shouldn’t blindly follow them), it wouldn’t come off so negatively.

    On the other hand, the examples of the different feedback types were edifying, and the hilarious/useless one was especially a little piece of hateful, ridiculous gold. So well done on adding those in, and despite all my critique of this article, it’s nice to see it back up.

  13. Steph the cowering on 11 January 2010, 01:13 said:

    Kyllorac, I think you’re halfway there, but not quite.


  14. fffan on 1 March 2010, 03:53 said:

    @ the three comments above:



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