Tuesday, March 6, 2012

ACCEPTING CRITIQUES AND SUGGESTIONS


To slightly paraphrase an old joke-

How many critique-group members does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Why does it *have* to be changed?

I have a few beta readers I adore. They offer to read and give feedback, asking for nothing in return. [I haven’t checked my bill box today yet. ;)] One of them referred to the tireless work he has done to improve my stories as ‘something worthwhile to do.’ I know there’s a special place in heaven for those who read pre-published manuscripts.

Critique groups are different. Writers helping each other improve, with the understanding that as much as you get, you will also give. I belong to one such group, and eight of us take turns each week giving feedback to one member’s story.

I do well with my beta readers, because I get each as a single review. I have time to think about it, and consider what to accept and what to pass on. I set it aside and get back to the reader’s suggestions again and again, until I feel I have gotten the last drop of help. I can also return to the reader and ask questions and re-visit the story after implementing some of the changes. To be honest, I rarely do this. I almost always ‘see’ what they suggest or I don’t ‘see’ it. But knowing I can come back sets me into relaxed openness, and makes a fruitful revision.

It is different with a critique group. My experience with mine, getting seven sets of suggestions all in one week, can be overwhelming. “Why,” I find myself asking, “is it this particular critique is the only one to see it?” Sniff-sniff. “Why do two think this is a strong sentence, their favorite, and two others think it should be deleted?” Humph.

Never one to ‘just go by the majority,’ I have to consider each on its own. That’s a lot to look at all at once.

So I developed a strategy, which works for me. I read each quickly as it comes in. I highlight what strikes me as entirely valid. Then I set it aside. All of them. Seven hard copies of critiques sit in a folder, quietly waiting.

A week later I will re-visit them one at a time, with at least a day between visits. I will copy the suggestions I want to consider onto a fresh document. When the visiting round is over, I will look at the copied suggestions and work from there. I will not look back at all I have chosen not to implement for now. There is such a thing as ‘too many cooks.’
And I remind myself I am the master chef. It has to taste good to me.

5 comments:

  1. I was nodding the whole way through this!

    I have a two FABULOUS critique groups, and numerous off and on beta readers. I trust them and I've learned a ton from them. Yet every time I go to revise a manuscript, I find myself occasionally thinking "But so-and-so told me this bit was good--how can I delete it?" Definitely such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen, and I think it's easy (at least for me), to get slightly off-track in my original idea because I'm taking so much input. I'd love to cut back slightly, but which is worse, bad advice, or no advice?!

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  2. This is a great post, Mirka. I've just recently joined a critique group like this. The first time critiques rolled in on my story I was so happy for the feedback that I thought every suggestion was worthy and I went through my ms making (almost) every change suggested. But by the next day, I was questioning things. In the end, I went back to my original ms, tucked the critiques away (for a cooling period, as you suggest) and was able to weigh each suggestion one at a time. Your last sentence says it all. "It has to taste good to me."

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  3. Thanks for sharing your strategies on revising from others critiques. Where do you find your beta readers? I'm happy to be in a wise online critique group! Like the post above, I, too, when I first started, made all the suggested changes. A writing mentor cautioned me. However, I still appreciate all the wonderful feedback from my critique members, including you!

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    Replies
    1. “Where do you find your beta readers?”
      I find mine under a rock, or in the back of the closet.
      Seriously now, to me a Beta reader is someone who is not a writer, but is an avid and thoughtful reader. I was lucky to have a few who asked to see anything and everything I write. I try to not abuse this, and parcel my output judiciously. Beta readers are more precious than rubies.

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  4. Love the joke.

    That's pretty much how I handle beta comments. I also used a spreadsheet to record the frequency of certain comments.

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