How We Write Wednesday: OUCH!!! Critique and Editorial Revisons

Ouch! Other people’s revision notes hurt. A lot. No writer loves being told that what they’ve crafted doesn’t work for the reader. Even light critique or editorial revision comments can be painful to work through,  but WE NEED THEM. Eh-hem. Yeah, this is going to be one of those tough love HoWW posts I know you love so much…

Don’t think I don’t sympathize with a writer’s sensitivity to hearing constructive criticism.It’s never easy for me, turning a manuscript over to a beta reader (akin to dropping my creative pants in public) or my agent or editor and asking them to show me where the story breaks down (where I need to get back to the gym and work on the gushy parts). But I do it. Because I’m a professional writer, and I adore my readers, and I want every book to be the very best it can be. AND I can’t get the story and plot and characters and setting and theme and symbol and narrative structure, etc. there completely on my own.I know that while I draft, everything’s not always going to be perfect the minute my creativity poops it out ;o)

critique pig

We’re too close to our work once we’re in the thick of the writing. We’re no longer seeing the story’s journey from a reader’s perspective. At some point, our writer’s experience becomes the tunnel we see through. Which means, we’re in the tall grass (yes, I’m having fun with metaphor today, since Jenni’s doing the bulk of the HoWW post work), losing our way even as we write something unique to our voice that we want readers to love.

To be worthy of that love, we have to be willing to let go of a little of our creative control. At least long enough to ask the writing professionals we trust where we’re not getting the story right.

Enter the very necessary critique and editorial revision phases of your creative process.After which, in both cases we have to be ready to go back and deconstruct (or as Jenni calls it, DESTRUCT) our story all over again, based on someone else’s fresh take on what we’ve done. We’ll talk editorial during a later post (and I’m taking the HoWW reins back next week to focus on deconstructing drafts that you need to revise). Which means the rest of this post will be my very brief take on working with a critique.

Jenni’s talking today  about something I call her “stream of consciousness” critique style. When she reads for me, she gives me her immediate impression whenever she’s pulled from the story. She tells me in that instant what is and isn’t working, then she continues that conversation with herself and me in future edit notes in the same critique, as she discovers the rest of the story and further issues. I LOVE this technique, because I’m seeing exactly what’s happening in her story experience the first time she reads every part of the book. It’s a running summary, but she doesn’t go back and pretty comments up. It might seem harsh to some, because she’s not pulling her punches at any (and I mean any ;o) point in her read, but it’s invaluable feedback to me.

BTW, she doesn’t tell me how to fix things (an expectation of a lot of novice writers is that a critiquer will be giving them paint by numbers instructions on how to fix each problem–uh, no). She doesn’t over explain what’s not working in the writing of the story. Instead, she tells me what’s not working for her in the reading of the story.

It’s then my job to hear what she experienced, incorporate it into my vision for the manuscript, then figure out what’s broken (often not exactly what she’s pointing at in a critique note, because what she’s experiencing in a particular place in the story is confusion resulting from something else I need to fix sooner).

 revision

It’s my job to go back and fix things, because she’s respecting me as the creator of the world she’s reading. It’s my job to pull up my big girl panties and get back to work, because I asked for her feedback, however giving it works best for her, because I wanted the broken bits I’ve left in the story cleaned up long before my agent or editor or readers get their eyeballs on what I’ve created.

And, yes, it can hurt. But so can going to the doctor or the gym or even visiting the dentist we’re not overly fond of having poking around in our mouths. Still, we do all these things, because they’re good for us. And we don’t blame the professionals who help us or the treadmill that firms our thighs, because it’s not a birthday party every time we see them. They’re doing their jobs. We’re lucky to have them in our lives. And it’s up to us, once we leave them, to keep the work going and follow whatever of their advice we choose to (or not).

And here’s the thing about handling less-than-flattering critiques that we’ll come back to in a week or so. If you’re too thinned skin to deal with a critique partner’s not-always-flattering notes on your work, how on earth are you going to have the skills you need to work with that publishing house editor you hope to write for one day? You know, the publishing professional who isn’t a friend, who really isn’t invested in whether or not he/she’s hurting your feelings, and who potentially holds your next book contract in his/her grasp, while they’re telling you to fix something you don’t want to go back and mess with again…

So, to sum up. Scoot over to Jenni’s blog  to read more about how we write/critique. Come back herenext Wednesday, and I’ll lead you through an overview of the nitty gritty of deconstructing a manuscript once you have your own or someone else’s revision notes to work from, and stick with us throughout the month for more motivational tough love ;o)

And until you missed them, here are HoWW series topics and posts for you to catch up on:

April’s Revision Adventures:

March’s HoWW plot speak:

February’s Character (and critique/brainstorming) posts:

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8 Responses to “How We Write Wednesday: OUCH!!! Critique and Editorial Revisons”

  1. I think the hardest thing to do in the rewriting process to have the ability to see and make real changes over replacing a couple of words thinking that will do the trick.

    I think it should also be mentioned that you and I have a certain trust level that has built up over time. I stopped caring about making a “critique impression” by sounding all professional and using buzz words to make my point. I also stopped worrying about “needing my work to be pretty” when you critique so that you don’t see I actually write ugly drafts, a long time ago. This allows us to slip deep into the creative process and the reading the process.

  2. Cathy in AK says:

    Great post. I would be totally lost without my crit partners. From the beginning, we have been honest without being brutal, offered suggestions without saying, “Do it this way,” and let each other know what worked or didn’t and why. Do we always agree with comments? No. But if something catches your CP’s attention, take note. Like Jenni said, it’s a matter of trust. That partnership has allowed me to look at an editor’s notes with a clearer eye. After the initial “OMG! I can’t do this!” panic, anyway :)

    Oh, popped over from Eden’s FB post, btw :)

    • Anna says:

      Yep, Cathy, sounds like you’re in a good place with your cirt partners. Congrats!

      And Jenni’s right. Brutal at times, but right ;o)

      Thanks for sharing your experience, and for link over from Eden. Tell her thanks for us, too ;o)

  3. Eden Glenn says:

    Hi guys. I love the blog. I’m thankful for a critique partner who gets me. That relationship can make or break you as a writer. Yet by the time I finish the work I know she’s seen it to adnauseum just as I have. How do you find fresh eyes in the form of a beta reader?

    • Anna says:

      Hey Eden! Thanks for sending Cathy over, BTW ;o)

      Honestly, at my stage in the game, I don’t do weekly critiques with a partner. When I’m on a regular writing/publishing/promotion/proposing new work schedule, I barely have time to write and do the other “work” things that are part of my job. And, when I’m working with an editor and my agent on a project, they’re actually my critique group. Their expectations for what readers want are the ones I need to consider most when I’m drafting.

      So, I have a group of trusted writer friends who read cold for me. Either a proposal or a rough draft or a revised manuscript I’m ready to send in, but I want a fresh pair of eyes to read and tell me what’s really going on. I’ve learned to deconstruct and rewrite a lot of the yucky stuff before I get something to them. What I’m asking them to do is help me punch it even higher (or save my ass if I think I’m off and still don’t know exactly what’s not working).

      These are my beta readers, and I do the same for them. I also brainstorm with the same writers, when I’m working on something crunchy and new and not quite like anything I’ve done before. They’re always a phone call or an email away, and I do the same for them. I know how blessed I am every day to have them. I’m a very lucky girl.

      My husband, bless his heart, is the guy who has to read and re-read and read some more while I’m drafting. And he has the patience and enthusiasm of a saint waiting to save his very last soul ;o)

      So, maybe not the answer you were looking for, but that’s my process. Cold reads are essential. They’re your true readers. Always save them for the people you absolutely trust the most to know your voice, your audience and your willingness to do absolutely anything you have to, to make the story the very best it can be!

  4. Bri Clark says:

    Well put Anna, and you timing is impeccable. I’m in the middle of an edit prior to publishing. I’m in that mode before it sees the publishing house editor. Not a fun place to be but part of the journey none the less.

    • Anna says:

      Thanks, Bri!

      Good luck with our proposal/manuscript. If it helps at all, I’m in the very same place as you are, every time I finish a proposal and send it in to see if it’s good enough. Just because I’ve sold before doesn’t mean the next one’s a lock. Maybe I’ve been fooling them all. Maybe they just don’t realize that the best stories are behind me. Maybe I’ve (after the last year or so of so much upheaval with my health and so forth) just not the same writer anymore.

      We all have doubts, ever one of us, no matter how many books we’ve written or published. And we all have a job to do–get those rewrites done and that story the best it can be, so the characters that inspire us will one day inspire readers. Even when it’s not a fun place, it’s a very good, very special place I’m honored to be in, with each and ever new book!

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