I’ll never forget the first time I completed a rough draft of an entire novel. I was euphoric, maybe feeling a bit of what God felt when the world was created. Something from nothing. I had created an entire world, brought to life characters who had never existed before. That euphoria is so strong that it blinded me to the flaws in my story. What a letdown to hear critique: “The story is stronger without the first three chapters.” “This character is not convincing.” “What is the motive here?”
I just finished the first round of rewrites/revisions on the rough draft of my Work In Progress (WIP), my sixth novel, a contemporary YA. I promptly sent the manuscript to my agent, and I’m now waiting to hear her expert feedback. I’m too close to the story at this point to be objective about it, so she will take over and point out the flaws I can’t see.
And when that critique comes? Novice writers tend to put up their fists and defend every last sentence. “But you don’t understand.” “That’s the way I intended it to be.” “The famous author (fill in the blank) does the same thing in her books, and she sells millions.” I’ve been a novice, so I’ve been there. Now I know better, but I still have the impulse to become defensive. I also know better than to think my first revised draft will make the cut. Still, that tiny, crazy second-grader inside my brain envisions my agent calling to say this novel is the best thing she’s ever read. Ha. Wishful thinking, second-grade self. Dream on.
So while I wait for my agent’s feedback, I’m prepping my attitude for a gracious response. Here are seven tips to remember when receiving critique.
1. Weigh the critique according to the skill and knowledge of the critiquer. A couple of my critiquers are not writers but avid readers who know a good story, well-written. I take their feedback seriously. I also have critiquers who are published authors. I consider their feedback professional, though not always right. I give even more weight to my agent’s expert opinions. In short: find critiquers you trust. You will not be well-served by critiquers who are natural fault-finders and snipers, or jealous amateurs, or relatives/friends who love anything you write.
2. Don’t take critique personally. If you’re advised to correct or revise your writing, it does not mean you’re a bad person or that you’re not intelligent or capable. All authors need objective feedback, all have their shortcomings, and all have to revise. The truth is, we’re not writers, we’re re-writers.
3. Consider critique to be training. What you wrote is what you alone wrote. If grammar, plot, pace, dialogue, anything needs to be fixed, then use the critique as a learning experience. Note the flaws you overlooked and the mistakes you tend to make repeatedly. Refer to those notes when you write your next novel.
4. Encourage yourself by reading the acknowledgements in published novels. You’ll see authors thanking other writers, friends, and partners in publishing, who – guess what? – pointed out flaws in the writing and sent the author back to revise. It helps me to realize that sending a well-written novel out into the world is a team effort. Again, all authors have critiquers, agents, and editors holding up a mirror to their work, showing them what they could do better. When the author follows their advice – or at least seriously considers it and offers a reasonable alternative – the novel is better for it.
5. Refuse to compare yourself to other authors, especially to bestsellers, whose books sell on their names alone. Those authors don’t have to be as scrupulously edited, though many are, but they can get away with mistakes you can’t afford to make. A corollary: Don’t compare your writing to authors of classics. If they were being pitched to a publisher in today’s competitive market, many of them would be returned with a rejection letter.
6. Realize that if your agent and editor don’t catch your mistakes, those mistakes will come back to haunt you. Reviewers and readers will point them out in public. Which leads to the last tip:
7. Be grateful. It is truly a privilege to have someone who will tell you to take one more pass at revision. Someone to walk the path with you. Someone who has got your back. Someone who will tell you when your plot needs to be fixed.
So I’ve just given myself a seven-point pep talk while I wait to hear from my agent. I hope these points will encourage you, too, when you’re on the receiving end of critique.
Happy Writing! Happy Reading!
© 2013 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com