Writing isn’t just about writing. Yes, that’s a huge component of it, but if you want to improve your writing skills, you have to do more than write. One way that helps is to comment on other peoples’ writing.
I’m not talking about simply stating whether you liked or didn’t like something. And I’m not telling you to edit someone else’s work, or try to improve their work based on what you’d do if their story were yours. Look at someone else’s work on its own merit. Work on figuring out what that one, individual story is trying to do.
The goal with commenting is to help create well-crafted stories. You want to help other writers improve their work, and in doing so, yours will improve. Be honest…not mean. If you say something that’s a great idea, but makes the writer defensive, your comments won’t be heard.
It’s always nice to say something positive about the work. It’s easy to get on a rant about what’s negative, and though you should be honest, you don’t want to throw the writer into a black hole. Think how’d you feel if someone was so brutally honest with you, you wanted to crawl under a rock and never see the light of day again….Not a great feeling.
There are different types of comments you can give to other writers. I’ve listed some of the areas below:
- The View From Above. From an overall perspective, how did you feel about the story or the chapter you just finished reading? What aspects stayed with you? What were the best and worst parts?
- Let’s Get Technical. How was the plot of the story? Of the chapter? Was there a flow from beginning to middle to end? How were the setting, dialogue, and voice? How about the point of view? Where there some parts of the story much slower than others? Was the writing too choppy or flowery? Did the structure of the story or chapter make sense?
- The Individual Moments. Were there any specific points in the novel that delighted you (this could be a positive emotion, like overwhelming happiness, or a horrible one, like feeling as if you’d experienced a character’s loss first hand – both of these would be good scenarios)? Was there a section that made you doubt the validity of a character? Was there a part that left you wanting more or less?
- Think About Those Sentences. How’s the sentence variety? How about the word choice? Are there some words that don’t make any sense or throw you out of the story? Is the voice active or passive? Wordy? Too dense? What about the use of figurative language?
- Why Continue Reading? What makes you want to read on? Do you want to read on? If you’re looking at a chapter, do you have a sense of where the story’s going?
When commenting, it’s important to address different areas. You want to be thoughtful and thorough. Explain why you said what you said. If you only state what was good and what wasn’t, the author won’t know why something works and another thing doesn’t. The author won’t know how to go about changing sections that didn’t work. So take the time and explain your thoughts.
How do you go about commenting?