Participating in a critique group is an essential part of the creative process for authors. It’s also very scary. No one wants their work shredded by peers. What we do want is to move our work forward on the continuum from draft to polished WIP ready for the next heart-wrenching phase of writing—the query process.
As it should be, the critique group is the roughest setting on the sander when you’re in polishing mode. Whether you want to or not, you need to know where the plot holes are or that your novel really starts at the beginning of chapter 3, rather than your original chapter 1. You need to know your 11-year-old main character’s voice sounds more like a 48-year-old librarian. You need to know you start 85 percent of your sentences with the word “And.”
Success with critique groups, and ultimately your WIP, lies in perspective. These four suggestions can put feedback in perspective so that you can make good use of input you receive from your group.
Honesty is a Two-Way Street
Critique groups are not the place for pleasantries and praise. You need honest feedback—brutally honest—from your critique partners. They need the same from you. Everyone in the group must agree to go in with blinders off and eyes open. The purpose of critiquing is to put your work under the microscope so you can see what needs to be changed to make it better. Just like your intent is not to bruise the ego of your peers, their intent is not to bruise yours.
Let it Simmer
When you receive feedback, don’t react or make changes … yet. Listen, take notes, and save comments on shared documents. Then leave it alone for a few days or even a week. Feel free to cry, journal about the sky falling, and crank up heartbreak songs. Once you’ve processed your initial knee-jerk reaction feelings, read the notes and comments again. Each time you do, it may spark an idea on how to improve your work.
Grains of Salt
For me, the grains of salt that shed perspective on critique feedback are questions. When you go back to your notes and comments, ask:
- What are they really saying? Is the message clear or do you have to read between the lines? Is it a general suggestion or a specific change? Can you make a similar change that works better for your story? Is it something you need to look at in other areas of the project?
- Who else is saying it? Is it a consensus, or one person’s opinion? Each critique partner provides individual opinions and perspectives. If everyone sees the same issue, you may want to take the feedback more seriously. If only one does, take it under advisement, but don’t make any major decisions or changes.
- How does the feedback measure up to industry standards and expectations? You might like the middle-aged librarian personality of your 11-year-old main character, but will 8-12-year-olds be able to relate? Compare the information and your work to other recently published books in your genre.
- How do you feel about the feedback? If you’re honest (after the tears dry up) does it make sense? Is it useful? Can it help make your WIP better?
Make the Changes Yours
When you’re ready to edit based on critique feedback, be careful not to make the exact changes your partners suggest. Cherry-pick the important points they made and then make changes that suit your story. Technology makes it easy to share your excerpt online and have comments and edits added directly by members of your critique group. If you blindly accept changes, you run the risk of altering your unique writing style and your characters’ voices and personalities.
A group of brutally honest writers who seek to support each other’s journeys is a precious resource. Bring the tissues if you must, but always cherish the connections, information, and shared devotion to the craft of writing.
Micki Bare is the author of three chapter books. She’s a graduate of N.C. State University. Her career in early childhood spans more than two decades, with service as a teacher, administrator, and marketing director. She loves to write, garden, cook, and hike. She’s been a member of SCBWI since 2012 and is currently working on middle-grade novels. She and her family reside in Asheboro, NC. For more, visit mickibareauthor.com, Instagram: mickibare, Twitter: turtleauthor.