Recently, my posts have been focusing on the editing stage of a writing project. However, there is something else that typically occurs once you have finished writing a first draft: critiques. These may come from friends, family members, or random beta readers you find on the internet. No matter the source, critiques can be really helpful. But how do you make the most out of the critiquing process? How do you avoid feeling insulted and take your critic’s advice to heart?
Of course, there is tons of advice out there for dealing with critiques. But where do I always turn when I want to know about something writing-related? You guessed it — Mr. Chuck Wendig at the Terrible Minds blog. Not too long ago, Chuck made a post all about critiques and offered up ten tips for getting the most out of them. I think all of his tips are great and you should definitely read the entire post. But the one that stood out to me was the “look for patterns and potholes” tip near the end of his list. Take it away, Chuck:
One critique has some value. But several critiques offers you the power of patterns. If three people say the same thing — blah blah blah, that character doesn’t have enough agency, that plot point doesn’t make sense, why is the story narrated by one of those dancing windsocks you see out front of car dealerships? Then okay, that’s worth a long, hard squint.
Also worth realizing that critique is a curious animal. We are driven to not only point out deficiencies but then also to fill those deficiencies — it’s a noble goal, but what it ends up being for you, the writer, is that the reader will tell you both a) what’s wrong and b) how to fix it. Pay attention to a). But ignore b).
This is a great piece of advice because it tells you something you may have not thought about — you need more than one critique on your project. Sure, you may feel winded after reading feedback from just one person, but everyone has different opinions. You do yourself and your work a disservice by getting the opinion of just one person. If you belong to a writer’s group, pass around your piece and let everyone take a stab at tearing it to shreds. If you’re signed up for a website like Critique Circle, let lots of people read your stuff through that valuable outlet. Many eyes means you’re more likely to catch mistakes.
The other great nugget of advice here is to pay attention to patterns. Once you have multiple perspectives from multiple people, it all depends on what you do with that information. As Chuck says here, be on the lookout for problems that several people point out in the same area of your story. That’s where you need to focus when you prepare to edit. Look for the consensus.
One more thing — Chuck mentions here that critiquers will often offer up their own solutions for how you might fix issues with your story. But you don’t have to listen. I completely agree. You might take tidbits of what they say and craft it into your own solution, but you don’t have to take exactly what they say and incorporate it into your story. Solutions should come from you, and you’re under no obligation to take advice from your critiquers.
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan