Before you ask anyone for feedback on your writing, follow these rules

The quickest way to castrate your copy and mutilate your confidence is to ask a pal for help with it.

That’s my newest motivational quote for Instagram - like it?

It’s quite gallant and audacious, don’t you think, to sit down, commit and organize our scattered toothpicks of inner dialogue into an outer material form (this is writing). So it’s weird that when we get stuck or feel we need third party involvement before we publish, we tie on our goldilocks shawl and naively skip into the forest to ask for “a second set of eyes.”


As a very concerned citizen/pirate who’s been mauled more than once in her life, look me in my good eye and lean into my salty, whiskey-drenched breathe as you heed this warning:

Beware the Second Opinion.

At the risk of sounding very paranoid, I need to inform you that when it comes to critiquing your work:

  • Your mother isn’t safe.

  • Your girlfriends are all tyrants.

  • Your boyfriend is WRONG.

And that goes for whatever the project is - a bio, website copy, your personal essay that weaves a narrative thread between your last relationship and the eating habits of turkey vultures (which I would definitely read).

In fact, 99% of the people around you are unqualified to give feedback. And that’s because 9 times out of 9.5, they don’t know what they’re doing.

I’m serious. Even your girlfriend, Gretchen, with the journalism degree. Hand that delicate, Fabergé egg of yours (your writing) over to Mrs. Butterfingers (Gretchen) and see what happens.

Gretchen’s best intentions will shatter your motivation and leave you for dead.

So. Now that I’ve deemed everyone you know and love untrustworthy, the realmessage here is that critiquing is a skill, ideas need encouragement, and feedback around your writing requires instruction and boundaries.

And it’s very unfair to you and your critiquer if you don’t provide them.

I’ve been in writing workshops since 2007, some with very fancy authors you may know *straightens tie*  my only point being - what I’m about to share aren’t proprietary concepts for protecting my fragile ego. This is straight from the pro book (but, ya know, sexied up a bit). And it’s very wise and helpful.

Also...there’s still hope for Gretchen.

Since we typically don’t have workshop groups for our business writing and since you may still want feedback, choose your person by asking yourself who you trust to be honest and to abide along with you on the following rules:

  1. Don’t go into surgery for a broken toe and come out with a pig’s heart. In other words, don’t just hand your work over with a “tell me what you think!” Have specific questions you want answered. Like, Does the opening hook make sense? Do you think I should include more examples or is the first paragraph enough? This feels long, what are you seeing I can omit while still keeping my point? Otherwise, you get an opinion dump and end up losing great material that was fine but fell victim to the whims of Rando the Reader, and now you’re more lost and confused than when you started.

  2. Keep a tight leash. Tell people what you specifically DON’T want feedback on. You can say, I haven’t completely tightened this up yet, so I just want feedback on the beginning and end. Or, I’m kind of in love with my opening story, so I just want to know if the transition afterward works.

  3. Request Flowers. Have them open with a compliment. Tell your critiquer to be ready with the positives first. Are there any specific word choices, sentences, or paragraphs they enjoyed? And there’d better be some or they’re fired. Again, this isn’t because you’re a crybaby. It’s because you’re human and everyone needs encouragement to keep going.

  4. Give an updated address. Don’t forget to tell them who the audience is for this piece and where your material is going. Your critiquer needs to know they, most likely, aren’t the intended audience. This is especially pertinent in all writing concerning your business.

  5. Play good cop. Once you’ve taken all this in and recorded some notes, ask for clarification if you need it. Just because someone had an opinion in any given moment doesn’t mean their opinion will hold weight after they’ve had a good night’s sleep and a breakfast burrito. Chances are, you’re going to agree with most of their feedback, but if not, have them explain themselves. Remember, feedback is a skill.

Doesn’t that make asking for help seem easier? It’s going to make your feedback person’s task less daunting because they can focus on specifics. AND these rules toughen your skin by making the writing more objective. It’s not about you anymore and open opinions on your work. It’s about the mechanics of the piece.

Good luck! And when you get a chance to use these rules, let me know how it goes.

Caroline Mays