Week of February 5: The Power of Critiques
Friday, February 10—Putting Critiques into Action
I think I’ve written about the writer I met last year in the cab from the SCBWI/LA conference to the airport. She’s the woman who has been working on the same picture book for ten years. “My critique group has been helping me a lot,” she said. Then there’s the woman I met in a critique setting who began by saying, “I know you all suggested that I make changes in this, but I brought it back the way it was just to see if you’d have a different opinion this time.”
Makes you laugh, doesn’t it? It’s sad though how so often writers (that includes you and me) won’t listen to what they hear in critiques. I have been guilty of it. Actually, I have discovered I often have to hear things two or three times before it dawns on me I need to change something. I once piad for an expensive critique and was told exactly what I was told in a critique group. A real waste of time and money.
Everyone listens and hears differently. Here are some things that stand out to me when I’m hearing critiques that are things I know I need to pay attention to:
1. I hear several people saying the same thing.
2. Someone addresses something I know is a problem, but didn’t know how to fix.
3. When someone says something so true, I can’t believe I didn’t realize it earlier.
4. When the group reads my manuscript aloud and I hear a voice other than my own reading it.
5. Someone points out a silly mistake I should have caught on my own.
6. Someone suggests something and it makes me uncomfortable. (That is always a sign that I need to listen to what I’m being told.)
In her helpful article “The Give and Take of Critique” (© 2007, SCBWI, For use by SCBWI Members ONLY), Linda Sue Park describes the process she follows after receiving critiques.
First, I sort the comments. I suppose this could be done in your head, but I actually make a list. Three columns at the top of a page. Yes / Maybe / No No No! I put brief notes under each heading based on the comments I received. Then I start revising. I start with the Yes column—the comments I love. You know what I mean—when someone says something and you think, “Eureka! That’s perfect—why didn’t I think of that! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” I make those changes first.
Then I stop and think. A lot. This phase takes the longest. I think about the other two columns—especially about the items under No No No! If enough time goes by, my wounded feelings about these negative comments subside and I’m able to be much more objective about them—rather than dismissing them emotionally.
Ok, can I confess a crazy thing I do? I take a clean copy of my own manuscript with me to critique group meetings. As it’s read or aloud or as people talk about it, I make my own critique notes. I try to have an out-of-body experience, to not be the author of the piece for just a few minutes. I’ve made some important discoveries doing that. It might work for you, too.
One final note . . . Becky Levine has written a great article in the February 2012 Writer’s Digest. The article is entitled “Critique Your Way to Better Writing.” One quote from the article stands out to me:
“Every bit of effort you put into your feedback, into the critiques you produce, will take you miles further along your writing path. When you dig deep into a manuscript, when you get to the root of a story’s problem, when you explain clearly and help another author revise, you strengthen your own writing skills in a way that no book or class can.”
It’s Your Turn!
1. Find those notes from your last critique. Pour of them. Maybe you want to make a Linda-Sue-Park list. Maybe you want to an out-of-body experience and critique your own work. Maybe you can face those suggestions that were too difficult to face before. Go on, get to it!