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Beyond the First Draft—Reviewing, Revising, Readjusting

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Or, Now I’ve received my critiques, what do I do with them?

Having been told by my high school Creative Writing teacher that my cute, sweet, romantic short story was well written and worth an A+ grade, I slightly revised it and turned it in as my first assignment in my first college Creative Writing class, Writing the Short Story. When it came time for my story to be workshopped in class, it was torn to shreds. I was devastated. What I didn’t know then that I understand now is the cut-throat nature of many Creative Writing programs in large universities. It’s every student for him-/herself, and must do whatever possible to impress the professor. The novel writing class didn’t go any better (professor hated historical romances, which is what I was writing at the time). Sure, when I now look at the work I turned in for those writing assignments, I cringe at the quality of the writing. But it was their job to teach me how to become a better writer, not to crush my spirit. This extreme disillusionment, along with other factors, led me to drop out of college—the first person in three generations of my family not to finish.

When I returned to college seven years later, I had a wonderful experience with the Creative Writing courses I took, because I had a very supportive professor who believed in my skills. Not being a fiction writer herself, there wasn’t much guidance she could give me on improving my craft—but that wasn’t important. She rebuilt my confidence with her continual encouragement. Because of Dr. Stevens, I gained enough courage to go to my first professional writing conference—and my whole world changed.

Entering my first writing contest was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. It was only a few months before that deadline that I’d ever let anyone (my mom and grandmother) read anything I’d written, and here I was going to let total strangers read it. I’d only been learning craft for about a year. And when I got my feedback . . . All I can say is that the judges for that first ACRW Noble Theme contest were some of the most wonderful, positive, encouraging people who’ve ever judged a writing contest.

While the feedback I got the first time in college made me withdraw, made me keep my writing to myself, the feedback I got from that encouraging professor and the judges of that first contest made me want to go back, to put their advice into action, to make myself a better writer, to put out quality work.

I had a choice . . . I was already writing another manuscript by the time I received the contest feedback. Having taken a seminar at that first conference in which T. Davis Bunn preached the importance (for beginning writers) to write our stories from beginning to end without stopping to go back and revise—and to work on only one project at a time—I decided not to make any revisions of that original manuscript. But I did read and reread those comments and figured out how to apply them to the story I was then writing.

In this post, you can read about my first experience with a crit group—how I struggled to move forward and rewrote the first ten chapters three times before forced by grad school deadlines to make forward progress with the story and finish it.

In Critiquing Step 4: Putting the Crits to Work, I wrote that there are two approaches to using critiques: go back and fix everything or forge ahead. Or, in other words, REVISE or READJUST.

Once you have REVIEWED the feedback on your writing, you have two choices of what to do with it (well, three, really, but completely rejecting it is not something I recommend):

REVISE. If you are an outliner, if you know your story backward and forward before you even start writing it, if you can go back and make revisions to earlier chapters without losing your forward momentum, then you can do this. When you get your feedback, you can stop what you’re doing and go back in and make the revisions without taking the risk that you’ll completely alter your story. Because you know your story so well, you’ll know which critique comments to implement and which to lay aside because they don’t fit in with the direction of your story (remember—critiques are more than just finding grammatical/spelling errors; you may receive comments on characters, setting, point of view, and plot).

READJUST. If you’re like me, you have a general idea of where your story is headed when you start writing, but half the fun of writing is discovering what’s going to happen as it comes out on the page in front of you. The danger for us with critiques is wanting to go back and revise and then completely changing the structure, characters, or plot and being back at square one. I’ve fallen into this trap. It’s so easy to get new ideas of what I could do with the story when I receive the crits that the temptation is there to go back and completely rewrite the portion of my first draft that’s already written. I’ve learned that while it’s important to read and understand the comments, I need to apply them to what I have not yet written and hold off revising what I’ve already written until the entire first draft is finished. I do this even with my own changes that crop up halfway through the story. I write down the idea/needed change, save the document in the file along with my chapter files, and continue writing forward—and I’ll also make a note at the top of the next submission I send to my crit partners informing them of the change that I’ve made.

How do you implement the feedback you receive on your writing? Do you revise or readjust?

And what are your questions about/problems with moving BEYOND THE FIRST DRAFT? Let’s get some discussion going so that we can all learn from each other!

8 Comments
  1. Wednesday, August 1, 2007 12:33 pm

    I think this is why I’ve been hesitant to submit to my new critique group. I’ve got forward momentum and don’t want to lose it. Yet I do want their feedback and want to be a positive contributor to the group.

    I’m going to submit something and take in the feedback with an eye to READJUSTING.

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  2. Wednesday, August 1, 2007 4:08 pm

    My first experience with a top notch crit group had me spending more and more time on each submission. I learned so much from the first couple rounds, that I needed to go through the entire ms looking for those same flaws and buffing them out. Hopefully, the writing got better with each crit. The comments got fewer. 😉

    I’m not prone to over-revision, probably to a fault. I tend to readjust as I go, then have to go back through the ms and fix what came before that should be changed.

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  3. Wednesday, August 1, 2007 6:00 pm

    I already know I’m a readjuster. Since I’m a SOTP writer, going back to the beginning over and over and over totally stops my train of thought. I even write displaced scenes with no idea what chapter they belong to.

    I’m totally focused in on my transcription course right now, but once that’s done and the job switch has been made and I get a schedule worked out, I can get into a crit group. I really do need to be in one.

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  4. Wednesday, August 1, 2007 6:24 pm

    Ah, now, here’s where the “group” thing is a challenge to me– I have such limited time I spend writing, I find myself selfishly wanting to stay focussed on my own work.

    I’ll take suggestions, and love to hear what people think about my stuff, but b/c I don’t want to surrender enough time to properly reciprocate I resist asking.

    (I’m trying not to take more than I can give, and find that limits outside input).

    Can someone tell me this is okay for now?

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  5. Wednesday, August 1, 2007 7:22 pm

    I’ve done it both ways. I’ve found I have to have the entire first draft completed before subbing, otherwise my crit buds (wink wink) are critting stuff that may be non-existant anyway. I do have one crit bud who reads the first draft and helps me figure out my story, plot, and characters. The dual system is working really well for me 🙂

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  6. Wednesday, August 1, 2007 8:05 pm

    I had completed three manuscripts (had been writing for about fifteen years by then–but really only seriously focused on learning craft for a couple of years) before I hooked up with my first critique group. But the timing worked out perfectly. I worked with them for a little less than a year before starting graduate school where working with critique partners was required.

    You have to do what you’re comfortable with. If you’re not comfortable working with crit partners, don’t do it right now. Eventually, when you get ready to start submitting, you may find that having critique partners will really help you whip your manuscript(s) into shape before they go out.

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  7. Thursday, August 2, 2007 8:11 am

    Or, Now I’ve received my critiques, what do I do with them? … read them, flip out, throw them in a corner, try to calm down and think rationally…

    Okay so I exaggerated a little 😀 I actually will read through a critique when I first get it then I let it sit for a long while (being a month to longer). Typically this is fine, because I’m usually in the processes of revising another portion of my manuscript or such. When I’m focus on that portion I can’t deal with others. And I find I always get a little hyper when I first read a critique and think oh my god I’ve tons of work to do. By the time I go back to it my mind is focused and it’s all about improving the story and then I LOVE my critiques, because they help me so much.

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