I belong to a fairly large critique group here in Florida, and I’m always amazed by how diverse the comments are about a piece of work. We usually critique two pieces during the meeting. We receive (via email downloads) the work a week before we meet, giving everyone a chance to read the two pieces and write down (or use the track changes and comment features in Word) their reactions and suggestions. Generally the pieces are no longer than 3,000 words.
When we do meet, each person present is allowed to give his or her critique with the author remaining silent during this time. When everyone present has spoken, the author then speaks, either defending certain decisions or answering questions posed during the critiquing session.
The members of this group vary in their writing and publishing experience, but all are readers, and, of course, it’s readers a writer always wants to reach. Reactions vary from “Love it, love it, love it,” to page after page of suggested changes. I often worry about the newer or less experienced writers in the group. How do they know which suggestions to heed and which ones to ignore? And, will they become discouraged if given a large number of conflicting suggestions?
I do think the group is great training for a writer. It’s a preview of how different editors, reviewers, and/or readers may react to a piece. It shows, even though one editor (or reviewer) may reject a piece, there’s a good chance others will love it. No matter how hard we try, we’re not going to please everyone.
The difficult part for a writer, especially a new writer, is deciding what suggestions (or praise) to listen to and what to ignore. (One thing I’ve learned is no matter how many people praise your work, it’s the negative comments that stick in your head.)
So what is a writer to do?
- Make sure you belong to a critique group in which the members truly want to help you improve your work. (The one I belong to is like that.) Sadly, there are some people who enjoy tearing others down. That’s not going to help you.
- Listen to all comments. If several members are questioning the same thing or suggesting a change, consider it. If something’s not working for several people, even though it’s clear to you, you may need to add some information. A simple rewrite of that section may resolve the problem.
- Ignore the comments that come from members who don’t seem to understand your basic idea or the parameters of the genre. And ignore the praise from your relatives and best friends, unless you truly trust them to tell you the truth.
- Take a day or two after attending a critique session (or receiving a critique) before you look at the piece again. Let your subconscious work on the suggestions. Then read over the notes you took or received regarding changes. What do you think now? Can you see their point? Will rewriting something make the story better? Stronger? Or do you still feel your version is best?
- Trust your gut. If you know, for your story, what you wrote is how it should be, either grammatically or plot wise, then that’s how it should be. Editors (and readers) are always looking for something a little different. Perhaps your story will fit the bill.
Remember, it will be your name on the cover and title page. You are the writer. Believe in yourself. It has to be your story.