Sharing your writing with others and asking for their feedback is daunting at the best of times, but if you want to improve your skills as a writer, it is hands down one of the most useful things you’ll ever do.

Receiving a critique of your work, even when you have asked for one, can be a destabilising experience. What do you do when your readers question what you’ve done, disagree with the way you’ve done it, or simply haven’t understood what you were trying to get across? There can be an instinctive reaction to explain and justify your approach to the readers, to get them to see it from the point of view of the writer, so they understand why it needed to be written like that.

The problem is, explaining to the reader where the writer is coming from isn’t something you’ll be able to do once your book is completed and ready to be sent out into the world. Out in the world, the writing itself needs to do all the work.

The thing about critical feedback is this: the whole point of it is to tell the writer how their readers perceive the story.

Don’t think of the feedback as an evaluation of your writing skills. Think of it as a test: you’re aiming to achieve a specific effect with your writing, and you’re assessing whether the reader reaction matches what you were hoping for.

To make the most of the critique you’re seeking, start by setting questions for your readers. Think about what the you’re aiming to do with this particular section of writing. What do you need to know in order to assess whether it works? For example, do you need to know what impression readers get of a specific character? Perhaps you want to know whether they pick up hints of an upcoming plot twist? Put those questions to your readers.

Then listen to the feedback. Are your readers reacting to your writing in the way that you hoped they would? If not, what do you need to change in order to achieve the effect you were going for?