Writer's Survival Guide 11: Making the Most of Critiques
If you've ever received a critique, you probably know the crazy emotions that churn up before you read the comments. Maybe you're holding an envelope with a returned contest entry, or you're staring at the e-mail titled here are your chapters. You brace yourself, wondering why a cyclone seems to be tearing through your gut, and you wipe your clammy hands down the sides of your jeans before opening the document.
If it's your first critique, you may be completely unprepared for the comments inside. You open the file, scan the document, and new emotions roar. Even if most of the feedback is positive, you can't help but be blinded by the negatives.
Here's a sample of what might go through your head the first time you get a critique:
It needs work? What?? I thought I nailed it!
Craft issues? Too many -ing words? Passive voice? What are they talking about?
How can the pacing be too slow?
Head hopping? But my favorite author does it and she's on the NY Time's Bestseller list all the time.
What do they mean my character is unlikable?
What in the world is GMC?
Then, after you've let it sunk in for a while, you might have different thoughts:
I thought I was writing something really special, and it's not special at all.
It's just one person's opinion.
I might as well give up now. I'll never be a good writer.
I know I'm great. The judge/commenter doesn't get my writing.
A few days or weeks later, you might return to your work and realize:
Oh my goodness. She's totally right. How could I have missed that?
I need to study more writing craft books.
The rules aren't the same for aspiring authors and seasoned bestselling authors.
This book doesn't need to be scrapped. I need to rewrite some areas and revise again.
The difficulties don't end after that first critique either. The longer we write, the more we want to create better drafts. We don't want to hear there's a major problem with our book, because it makes us feel vulnerable.
I made mistakes early in my career that actually helped me receive feedback. For one, I queried my first three books and sent off the requested partials before I had a critique partner. The subsequent rejections softened my delusional heart so that I knew I needed honest feedback before I sent out more books.
I've always learned something from a critique. I've been part of different critique groups over the years, and I've opened the dreaded contest results. Now, when I get feedback from my critique partners, I have a system to apply their advice.
Making the Most of Critiques
**Remind yourself you want to be a great writer. Getting feedback will make your book better. You're not asking for feedback to hear "you're the best." You're asking for it to improve your writing.**
1. Read through every comment in the document. Do your best to remain neutral. Let the comments sink in.
2. If you're upset, walk away for a few hours or until you can be objective.
3. When you're ready to be objective, read through the comments again and ask yourself which ones resonate with you. Write down the overall issues you glean in the comments.
4. If the feedback is from a critique partner, e-mail (or call) them to thank them. If they didn't summarize their overall impressions, you might want to reiterate the problem points in the book to verify you're on the right track.
5. For a full manuscript with multiple critiques, I recommend creating a table of revision notes for the problems you decide to resolve. Go through your book and write the chapter, the problem, and your proposed fix. Repeat until you've made it through the whole book. When you're ready to work on the suggestions, check off the changes as you make them.
Try not to throw out an entire critique because you're upset. Sure, you don't have to take any advice you don't agree with, but that doesn't mean you can't learn something from the comments.
On the other hand, don't blindly take all advice as true. You need to go the extra step and be objective. If you don't agree with the feedback, don't take it.
Certain things will come up in critiques again and again. Pay attention to them. You can train yourself to avoid common problems if you're aware of your weak areas. But try not to fall into the trap of thinking you'll be able to achieve perfection. I struggle with repetition, and no matter what I do to clean my books up before I send them to my c.p.'s, new repeated words and phrases manage to appear! I laugh it off. That's what Find/Replace is for. :)
One thing many writers new to feedback do is rush through proposed changes. This isn't a race. I don't think it's possible to fix a major problem in three hours. Take your time. Don't be afraid to work through changes in a series of drafts.
Feedback is one of the most important things you can receive as a writer. Be gracious. Be patient. And be thankful you've been given one more tool to make your writing terrific.
Do you have a tips for receiving critiques?
Have a fabulous Monday!