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How an Editor Can Phrase Feedback to Motivate a Writer


Motivate a Writer

The range of talent in the stories you edit will vary greatly. Some will need a lot of work, others are almost ready to be published. It’s important to remember that all authors must start somewhere, and even if a story is not great, that doesn’t mean it can’t be great. So let’s motivate every writer we work with.

Words and phrases can motivate a writer to receive recommended changes with an open mind and not feel demotivated. So how do you as an editor give feedback for issues in a story without demotivating the writer? With kindness.


Kindness doesn’t mean weakness. Kindness is most import when delivering bad news to someone. And let’s face it, when a writer hears something negative about their story it falls into the bad news category. I’m not saying it’s your job to make a writer happy, but I strongly believe it’s an editor’s job to help their client become a better writer. And to do that, the writer must approach your suggestions with a positive mindset.

Objective Feedback

To give objective feedback, it’s important to keep feelings out of it.

Comments such as, “I feel there is too much backstory in scene 27.” will put the writer off. They won’t know what to change to make the scene better. All they know is you feel there is too much backstory, and this may cause the writer to ignore the suggestion, or worse, stop trusting you.

A more helpful comment in the notes for the scene combined with recommendations using track changes is:

“Scene 27 has a lot of backstory. Good backstory is an event that hurts the characters before page one. Backstory can be used to create character motivations or flaws and drive the plot forward. I’ve marked the places in the text where the backstory is not relevant to the plot or to the character motivations. See if you think the scene flows better and the pacing is faster without the parts I’ve marked. The remaining backstory is well written and engaging.”

In the second version, the writer will understand what makes backstory effective and which parts of the existing backstory are working. They’ll also be left with a positive feeling that what is left is done well. They”ll be more likely to make changes if they understand why the changes are being recommended.

Tell the Writer What is Working

Here’s another example:

“In scene 12, there are seven instances of shoulder shrugging. Please cut that to only one.”

This could be rephrased as follows.

“The action in scene 12 is fast paced. I noticed there are seven instances of shoulder shrugging. In the previous scene, you interwove motion with the dialogue so the story flowed. Would you consider reviewing that scene and applying the same techniques to this scene? The goal is to remove all but one shoulder shrug.”

It may seem like more work to add in the explanation, but both you and the writer will benefit from this. You’ll get a reputation as an editor who cares that the writer gets better and is willing to take the time to do that.


Practice using an editorial voice that asks the writer as opposed telling the writer what to change. Take a look at the last edit you performed and review it based on:

  1. Are any of the suggestions subjective instead of objective? Try rewriting these in an objective manner.
  2. Do the suggestions contain the rationale for the suggestion? If not, rewrite with the rationale included.
  3. Do you give positive comments? If not, review the edit and practice adding positive comments.

Keep a file with repeated suggestions, comments and writing advice. You can use these in future edits. This will speed up your process and give you more time to give a comprehensive and objected feedback.


If you like to use tools to help you work. StoryCoach software gives you a method to be objective and have the writer see that you’re objective. The Story Arc doesn’t have feelings. The Word Count Per Scene doesn’t have feelings. The writer can see these issues, just as you did.

StoryCoach also contains pre-written advice for each of the 38 Fictionary Story Elements, so all you have to do is copy and paste right into scene notes.

How do you know if a writer is motivated by your critique?

Every editor has their own style, just like every writer has their own style. You’ll develop your editing styles as your career progresses and you edit more books. Often we don’t get feedback from a writer when our work is done. But you can always ask.  Just don’t ask right away. Give the writer time to absorb your suggestions and make their revisions. You’re more likely to get honest feedback after the writer has gotten over the initial shock and has seen how your suggestions improved their story.

You can ask specifically what helped them revise their story and what didn’t.  They’ll be thrilled you took the time to follow up and that their opinion means something to you. This is the final step to motivate a writer.

Ready to Take Your Editing to the Next Level?

A Fictionary StoryCoach helps writers tell a powerful story and makes the writer’s voice shine! You can now try Fictionary StoryCoach for editors for free!

In addition to StoryCoach, we also provide training. The Fictionary StoryCoach Certification training program  helps editors deliver a comprehensive and objective editorial package using StoryCoach software.

We developed this training for two reasons.

  • The first is for fiction editors to have a place to learn how to perform a high-quality story edit, get certified, and then have a tool (StoryCoach) that helps them perform exceptional story edits.
  • The second is for writers to know they are dealing with a professional editor who understands story when they hire a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach.

If you’d like to take the training, send me (Kristina) an email at [email protected] telling me why you’d like to become a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach, and I’ll give you a discount. For more on story coaching check out:  What is a Story Coach?