Tuesday, March 6, 2012


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.


  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?!

  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."

  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!

    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.

  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.