What’s the Tuning Protocol? The Strategy That Might Just Changing Your Writing Life


by Katie Venit

Confession: revising is my favorite part of writing. I love chipping away detritus to uncover a story’s themes and motifs. I love giving and getting feedback. When group members share their insights on my story, I can finally see what I’m missing. 

Confession: I stink at giving feedback. Constructive feedback is easy for me; I always want to hear what parts of my story didn’t work so I can improve, and I (incorrectly) assume the same for others. In my enthusiasm for improvement, I forget to mention the 95 percent of the draft that I loved. But knowing what does work is just as helpful as knowing what doesn’t. 

At the most basic level, the Tuning Protocol is a structured path to give everyone positive feedback and constructive criticism. (Protocols are highly structured activities.) Each group member offers warm feedback (something they liked). Although subsequent members can agree with those who came before them, each member has to say something original. Repeat the process with cool feedback (constructive criticism). The key is that the warm and cool feedback are not diluted. In other words, warm feedback shouldn’t be lukewarm. 

After all the rounds of feedback, the writer can weigh in. Perhaps she explains her reasoning behind an unpopular section, and the group can work through it together; perhaps she asks follow up questions. Finally, the writer reflects on the experience and identifies her next steps. 


  • The writer can either stay silent through the feedback round or engage in conversation about the piece right away. Silence helps if your group has difficulty staying on task, but it’s not necessary. 
  • Consider setting a time limit for each person if you have a lot of pieces to get through, or if you have loquacious members.
  • Reviewers can offer additional feedback other than warm and cool. For example, they can also comment on their emotional response to the piece, where that emotional response was interrupted, parts where they were confused, what they think the overall theme, message, or feel of the piece was, etc. Speaking from experience, feel can be an interesting topic: what the writer may have intended as positive could be perceived as something else entirely.
  • The writer can ask a specific question about the piece, and each reviewer can answer that question.
  • Distance variation: This works very well in an online community; reviewers already have the floor to say what they have to say. Maintain the structure of separate warm and cool feedback.