Today, I thought I’d share a couple more critique tips that have helped me in the past and then give you all a fun little quiz, just for laughs.
Tip #1: Helping Your Readers Help You
Sometimes it helps to give your critique partners or beta readers something to focus on so they can really help you in the areas where you need it. When I finished a draft of MFA thesis, I asked a few people in my critique group to be my readers, but it was much longer than a usual critique submission. In order not to overwhelm the group, and to make sure all the topics I needed help with got covered, I asked different people in the group to focus on different aspects of the story.
In my critique group, I have one CP who is AWESOME at dialogue and another who has nailed the YA and KidLit voice. A third CP has a great eye for character development and a fourth line-edits as well as a professional editor. Playing to their strengths, I asked them each to focus on the area that they’re best at. The result? Not only did I make sure all the important points of the manuscript were covered, it also made the volume of reading less… voluminous.
Tip #2: I’ll Read Yours if You Read Mine
Finding Beta readers can be tough. After all, you’re asking a lot of these readers. They’re not just committing to reading one chapter or the first 25 pages. They have to read the whole book, and unless you’re writing picture books, that’s a lot of reading. I’ve found the best way to work out the Beta Reader situation is to strike a deal: I’ll Beta read for you if you Beta read for me. This way it’s fair and you don’t feel bad for loading your friend with too much reading.
A few caveats, though. Make sure the person you make this arrangement with is reliable. (Or if you have a hunch they’ll flake on your book, get them to read it before you read theirs.) If you invest a ton of time reading the person’s work and then he or she doesn’t return the favor, you’ll end up feeling resentful and angry, and that can put a strain on the friendship. Also, choose someone who’s in the same place as you (i.e. someone who is also in the Beta stage) and someone who gives as detailed critiques as you do. If you’re a balanced match, this deal can work beautifully.
Tip #3: Be Your Own Best Reader
While having critique groups and Beta readers is great, you need to be your own best reader. A large part of the revision process has to be done on your own with the door shut, so you need to feel confident in your revision abilities. If you’re struggling with the revision process, I recommend the book Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. It was recommended to me by a writer-friend and it’s a great step-by-step guide to help you through the revision process. Becoming a good self-editor takes practice, so break out a short story and work through Bell’s method of layered revision before tackling a novel or other long piece.
BONUS QUIZ: Are You Good at Taking Critique?
Here’s a quizzy for you, just for fun. Answer the following questions, then count up your “Yes” answers and see your score below.
1) When your critique group says they don’t like your character, is what they’re secretly saying that they don’t like you?
2) When a colleague points out a flaw in your manuscript, do you immediately reply with an explanation why that flaw isn’t really a flaw after all?
3) You have 5 people in your writing group and they each have a different opinion about your WIP. Do you try to rewrite your project so that it fits all 5 suggestions?
4) When you send your manuscript to your critique partners, do you preface it by saying that the language is “coded” and that you’re going for something “post-modern”? (Meaning, of course, that if they don’t get it, it’s because they’re too dumb to get it and not because you were too dumb to write it like that in the first place.)
5) A corollary to #4, when you send your manuscript out, do you preface it by saying it’s really, really rough and you wrote it in two minutes on your iPhone while standing in line at the movie theater?
6) Do you refer to your manuscript as “your baby?”
7) Do you find it hard to sit through a critique without your favorite comfort food?
8) Have you ever cried after a critique but lied and told everyone it was because your hamster died?
9) When your short story gets rejected by an editor, do you take it upon yourself to write back and thoroughly explain why said editor is utterly and completely wrong?
10) You got critiqued by your writing group last week, got lots of suggestions for change and this week you come back with a manuscript that is… exactly the same. No changes made. Do you expect a glowing critique this time?
What’s your score?
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I scored a 1 (thanks to question #8).
Count up your “Yes” answers and scroll down to see your score.
0 = You have a level head and you make the most of your critiques because don’t take anything too personally. You take notes and you know when to incorporate feedback and when to let it go. Keep it up and you’ll go far.
1 = OK, so you’ve got your critique quirks but that’s normal, but you’re still pretty good about not letting critiques get to you. Sure, you might need to reward yourself for a tough critique session with some ice cream or even a good cry, but that’s fine. Just make sure you get home and close the shades before you do.
2-3 = Don’t take this the wrong way but you’re probably driving your critique team crazy. The thing that makes it so hard for your critique partners to deal with you is that you seem completely oblivious to this fact. Wake up! Stop writing like a lunatic and expecting glowing comments on your work. And start listening to what your critique partners tell you; they might actually be right.
4-5 = You are in need of a massive reality check. Here it is. Your book is not you. Your book is not your child. Your book is not a living being. Get over it. Now that we’ve made that clear, stop griping about how much everyone criticizes your work and focus on making it better.
6+ = Seriously? You seriously answered “yes” to six or more of the above? Wow. I don’t know what else to say, but… Wow. May I shake your hand?