Critiques: Surviving those Moments of Honest Feedback

The very word can invoke a shiver, a shudder and the nervous flutters in the stomach we sometimes call butterflies.  Somebody else reading, judging, and providing feedback on your work.  It’s going to be fine, they’ll love, it, anything they have to say can only make it better… these are the words I keep whispering to myself as two long weeks have passed.

A little background:  I am a member of a bi-monthly critique group called Monkeys with Red Pens (love the name!)  Every two weeks we sit down and discuss the work of two writers.  Guess what?  I’m up tonight.  It’s like putting your head under a guillotine and hoping beyond any rational hope that the quick drop will be painless, and as the readers rip off your head and yank out the most important regions of your heart that you will somehow survive.  Ok, yes, that’s melodramatic.  I’m a creative person and I feel that I’m entitled to a little melodrama.  Just ask my fiancée but (just you know) both of us agree to that qualifying word: little.  However, I don’t take that melodrama into the actual critique group.  I let it fester at the door because the feedback process is intrinsic to improving my work and enhancing my craft.  If I can’t listen with an open mind to my peers do I think I’ll be able to listen to a professional editor who won’t hold any punches?  I think you understand my point of view.

A couple of notable comments I’ve had which improved my writing:

“This character introduction sounds like the beginning of a Harlequin romance novel.”  My response: I changed the character introduction to something a little more sophisticated.

“I think you’re getting hung up in passive voice.”  This one required extensive re-reading of scenes to find that, yup, I was telling and not showing in several pivotal scenes.  They now show you the story instead of simply telling.

One critique that I loved:  “I didn’t even feel like I was reading, I could see the story clearly in my head.”

Most nerve wracking critique to date: the friend who read through the first 10 or so pages with Microsoft Word’s comments and track changes turned on.  A lot of great ideas, some of which I utilized in some way or another, some of which I didn’t.

I find the trick is to decide which critiques you believe you should keep and which ones are extraneous and don’t actually improve your manuscript.  It’s a balancing act because that friend?  You know, the one you bullied into reading your typed words?  How do you tell them their ideas are great, you appreciate them, but in this instance you aren’t using them?  I don’t.  You consider, reflect, play around with the comments and then you keep what works and put on the back burner the other ideas, perhaps they’ll be useful later.

Off to work.  I have deadlines to meet for my paid employment!

Love the comments!

2 Comments

    • Thank you! I agree, good feedback is essential in order to improve writing. A friend of mine read the first (NaNoWriMo) go at a chapter and then I sent her the same chapter a few days ago. I was expanding it and ended up doing a significant amount of work on it. She said the visuals were much improved and that she had a ton of question about characters and plots in the story. She told me those questions because I wanted to make sure they were the questions I was expecting, not the ones I thought would be generated. Pretty close!

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