The Art of Constructive Criticism.

I’ve been thinking and reading a little about the delivery of constructive criticism to creative writers. I’ve also been thinking about how an understanding of what constitutes good feedback can help us recognise quality and good practice and it’s opposite –  poorly delivered feedback which is potentially destructive and demotivating.  I’m not talking about what is said but the way in which it is said.  When I’ve had time, perhaps in a week or so, I’ll write my thoughts findings and ideas and share them here.

In the meantime I thought I’d start at the very beginning by looking closely at the meaning of the phrase ‘constructive criticism’.

I looked up the words separately and found a list of synonyms for each. When I put the lists together I found they dovetailed nicely and can be seen as providing a set of mini definitions.  This is the list I made. You can re-order the words any way you like.

Constructive              Criticism

effective                    assessment
positive                     comment
practical                    critique
productive                judgement
useful                        opinion
valuable                    review

There is a difference between criticism and constructive criticism of creative writing.   I hope that everyone reading this will have experienced constructive criticism at some point.  I can tell you that a half hour session of constructive criticism of my poems left me excited and motivated to make changes and improve the work.  I’d barely made it down the corridor before stopping to mark in some new lines while leaning against a wall. In contrast, an experience of negative criticism (I’ll distinguish between the two styles and give examples next time)  made me want to throw my poem away, to give up, perhaps forever.  I know I’m not alone in having these reactions to the two types of feedback, and I’ll be attempting to look at this art or discipline here. Right now I’m off to work, but I hope you’ll join me and share your thoughts and feedback in the coming weeks.




  1. Such an important topic, Roy – thanks for opening it up. It is a complex issue – so much, I think, depends not on red wheelbarrows but on how much the receiver of the comment values the considered opinion of the giver. And conversely, on how much the giver understands and is in synch with the intentions of the writer in the first place. Or does it? I’ll welcome this discussion!


    • Thank you Vanessa. As you say, a complex issue and already you have provided me with something else to consider. I was already hoping to touch on these issues a little but will now spend a bit more time thinking about them.


  2. […] I started and finished an MA in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University. I applied for and won an award to do it, so it didn’t cost me anything except time and travel costs. My expectations were high. I believed I might learn a lot.  Maybe I did. I’m still figuring out what I learnt. I guess it was partly what I already knew- that is, to trust yourself and don’t acquiesce or automatically give undue authority to those who hold positions of authority.  I’m glad now I went back to university. I could leave the chip on my shoulder behind on the way out.  One tutor was very dedicated. Others, far less so. I know all courses and tutors are different so perhaps my experience was atypical. The best part of the course was making new friends and hanging about in Sheffield. I eventually received a distinction. However, I thought feedback from one or two tutors was poorly delivered, discouraging and very confusing in some instances. As a bi-product of this experience I became interested in what makes good, useful, constructive feedback and put down a few thoughts about this subject on my blog.  (you can link this if you like John – […]


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