I survived my first novel critique!
Ever since I started doing research on how to get published I’ve known I would need to have other writers read and critique my novel. I blogged about it in March here. In the blog I asked when to join a writing group. I got a lot of great advice, but it was Meredith Mansfield whose comment gave me the kick in the pants I needed. She said, “You’re ready to join a critique group as soon as you decide to take writing seriously.”
Thank you Meredith!
So I did join a critique group several months ago and my first critique was Wednesday. There are three main things I see as very important while going through the critique process, so I thought I would share them.
#1 While being critiqued, keep your mouth shut
Remember that the critique is for you to get suggestions on how to improve your work, and the more you shut your mouth, the more time other people will have to give you feedback. Also, it’s tempting to try to defend your work, but remember, if they are good at critiquing, they are only trying to help you. Interrupting them and getting defensive won’t help them get their points across to you.
I have a really hard time shutting up sometimes, but I managed it (mostly) at my critique, and it was really cool! They all just blew my mind! It’s wild to sit and listen to a group of people discuss my novel. They talked about voice and genre, and plot ideas. I loved watching them fight over what each character would or wouldn’t do. So awesome!
#2 Remember that the story is still your own
The writers who critique your novel are giving you suggestions on how they would make your novel better. Keeping that in mind after receiving all of that feedback is important, because at the end of the day, they are just suggestions. The story is still yours, and you can do what you want to make it better.
Note: Keep in mind that any time the whole group agrees on something without even needing to discuss it, this is advice you are better off taking.
After the critique I had tons of notes and my head was spinning. I didn’t sleep at all that night because I was pondering all of the possibilities. The next day I received an email from a friend asking me if I survived my critique. She reminded me that, “they were all just suggestions from creative people who like to make up story lines.” Even though I really liked all the feedback I got, I really needed to hear that. It was good to have someone remind me that the critique is full of suggestions. The story is still mine.
#3 Give the story a break before starting a rewrite
While full of all these new great suggestions, it is tempting to jump right back in and hack away at your novel until there is nothing left. Please don’t! The reason being that you might be tempted to take all of that wonderful critique advice without thinking it through. You need to put it down and have time to sort out what advice will work for you, and in order to do that rationally, you need to make sure you have taken good notes, and then just leave it alone for a while. When you come back you may find yourself a bit more rational, and a lot more picky when you decide which suggestions to take.
I’m sort of glad I get to put this story on the shelf for a while and not think about it. I love it, but I need time off, and distance. So I’m going to let the dust settle and see what I have in a month or so.
Question: What is helpful for you when you’re getting critiqued?