Friday, April 22, 2011

Putting Critiques into Action

Week of April 17: The Power of Critiques
Friday, April 22—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 manuscript 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 told me to make changes in this. But I brought it back the way it was, just to see if you’d changed your mind.”

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’ve been guilty of it.
I paid for an expensive critique and was told exactly what I was told in a totally free 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. These are the first 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 (or wonderful or creative), that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier;
4.  When the group reads my manuscript aloud and I hear a voice other than my own reading it, stumbling over it, and trying to figure it out;
5.  Someone points out a silly mistake I should have caught on my own;
6.  Someone suggests something that makes me uncomfortable. (That is almost 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 the manuscript is read 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. Despite how crazy it sounds, it might work for you, too.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Find those notes from your last critique. Pour over them. Maybe you want to make a Linda-Sue-Park list. Maybe you want to try 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!

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