Skip to content

Critiquing Step 4: Putting the Crits to Work

Friday, September 15, 2006

Okay, you’ve completed the critiques for your partners and they have done the same for you. So what now?

Before you can decide how you’re going to put the information to use, you need to know if you should put the information to use.

Now that your crit partners have given you their honest (and hopefully encouraging and constructive) comments, you must carefully consider each comment before deciding whether to implement it or not. If you are getting conflicting messages from your partners, you have a couple of options. If it’s a technical issue (grammar, POV, word choice), you can research it for yourself and go with what you think best serves your story. If it’s a matter of personal choice/opinion, weigh your partners’ comments with your own insights into your story (after all, you know your story better than they do) and then make the choice, again, based on what best serves your story. As I’ve said before, it is first and foremost your story. I would suggest, though, that if you make a decision to go against your critique partners’ advice, you advise them of this choice—thanking them for taking the time to point it out—and explain why you’ve decided to continue with it the way it is. (e.g., Thank you so much for pointing out areas where I’m dumping a lot of information and “telling” about my characters or the history of the era. As this is my first draft and I’m just trying to get everything in, it’ll probably happen again as that’s just the way I draft, so if you’ll just mark anywhere you see one with INFO DUMP, I’ll be able to catch them in the revision process.) That way, they know you saw and understood their comments and won’t get frustrated or offended when they see it hasn’t been changed, and you won’t have to read the same comments every time.

If you don’t understand a comment—or the point the critiquer was trying to make with it—ask clarifying questions. If you have gotten hooked up with the right critique partners, they won’t have a problem with your asking for clarity on their comments—and you might even get more feedback or ideas than they originally gave as you dialogue about the issue. Just keep in mind: don’t be defensive or make assumptions about what the person was saying nor a perceived intent.

This is the point in the process where we can start second-guessing ourselves, our talent, our story, our characters, and our “calling” as writers. If you find yourself getting bogged down in the critique comments and losing heart step back and consider the bigger picture. If it seems like your critique partner is nit-picking every little thing—from commas to overused words to your setting to your characters, go back to the list of overview questions I gave in Step 2. Look mainly at the comments that address those First Read-Through questions. You may find that your critiquer got nit-picky on trifling little things (some that may just be a matter of personal taste or preference) because they really didn’t have much else to say about your piece.

Unfortunately, the critiques we receive won’t always be helpful. I’ve found this most often when first getting started with critique partners or being critiqued by people who’ve never read my writing (or even my genre) in workshops. Once you get hooked up with a critique group, set specific goals of what you are trying to achieve and ask your partners to help you by looking for whether or not you are achieving those goals. (Refer back to Step 1, point 3 for some examples.) The longer you write, the more you learn, and the longer you work with your critique partners, you will learn what you each need looked at in your writing—and your goals will change as your skill level increases.

This is the step that depends greatly on what kind of writer you are, so you may have to go through some trial and error before figuring out what method works best for you. But let’s look at how to use the critiques you have now received. From personal experience and through talking to others about it, I’ve boiled it down to two basic practices:

Stop, Revise, Continue
For some writers—and I would imagine these are the writers who have their entire novel outlined and plotted before they start writing—when they receive a critique, they stop writing anything new until they have implemented all of the revisions they deem necessary from the critiques. This process of revision on a work in progress doesn’t impede their forward progress, they are able to revise and then pick up right where they were and continue writing—while also implementing anything they learned/changed from the critiques/revisions. They don’t get mired down in the changes and start changing other stuff—like plotlines or characters!

My personal experience with the critiquing process is that this doesn’t work for me (but I would love to hear from those of you who can do this!). As a seat-of-the-pants writer, I always have a general idea of where my story is going, but many things can change along the way. In my first critiquing experience, I submitted the first ten chapters of Happy Endings to my ACFW critique partners. As they sent back their critiques, I started revising those chapters, and the story began to change. I sent those revised chapters back to them and they had even more feedback and suggestions. I revised the chapters again and this time submitted them to my SHU critique partners. By that time, though, I knew I had only a limited amount of time to get the entire story written, so I couldn’t go back and revise. That’s when I really figured out this method isn’t best for me.

Glean and Go
I learned that what works best for me as an SOTP writer is to “glean and go.” In other words, I read the critiques I’m given, save them for future reference, but continue writing new material rather than going back for revisions. I take into consideration all of the comments, from what isn’t working with the characters to the use of too much technical language (e.g., too many 19th century ship/Navy terms that aren’t explained in the context of the scene). I have had crit partners give me suggestions of scenes that might work better than what I have. There are occasions when these suggestions are given that it is so much better than what I have written—and I have an immediate and clear picture of it in my head—that I do go ahead and write it, which is how I end up with files named 04.doc followed by 04a.doc or 04addendum.doc. But, rather than trying to revise the original chapter and work the scene in and revise everything after it, I leave it for the revision process and go back to the forward progress—but now I’ve “seen” this new scene and can include any consequences, memories, or repercussions into the later part of the story.

Then, once I have a complete first draft, and after I’ve set it aside for several weeks, I open up my draft file along with the critiqued chapters (which is why I keep each chapter in a separate file), as well as any e-mails where we’ve discussed their comments, and start revising.

Again—I can only speak to what I’ve tried and what I’ve found works for me. I’d love to hear back from you on how you’ve discovered the critiquing process best works for you!

%d bloggers like this: