Critiques: Incorporating Good Suggestions, Ditching the Rest

No discussion on critiques and critique groups would be complete without a few words on what writers do with the suggestions they’ve received.
Writing Tip for Today: You listen politely as the members of your group take turns commenting on your pages. You thank everyone and take home the scribbled-on hard copies or the “track changes” versions. Now what?

  • Let the Crits Rest. Unless you’re on a deadline, let the critiques rest for a while, say a day. This is especially important if the critique was difficult in some way–your emotions need a chance to settle down. If a member suggests sweeping changes, if something you thought was the bomb really did bomb, or if you’re not sure if you agree with the critique, a day to digest all the opinions (remember, they’re all opinions) may help you be more objective as you rewrite.
  • Read and Decide. When the rest period is over, read through everyone’s comments as well as any notes you made to yourself. Make decisions about the critiques you received. The advice, “Take what you can use and lose the rest,” is sound.
  • List Your Fixes Together. Take a look at the copy you read from, or your notes from all the online crits. I like to read through all the comments and then transfer the suggestions for fixes that I like on this copy or on a separate note. The advantage is that you don’t have to keep looking through the copies looking for the suggestion you want to use.
  • Open a working copy. Open on screen or print out a copy of the document you read for critique . If you will be using Track Changes, first save a copy of the doc so the original remains safe. Keep your notes or list of suggested revisions close at hand. If you know how to use a split screen, you can open both your original and your track changes docs for side-by-side comparisons.
  • Start with Easy Stuff. If you’re a new writer, I suggest you fix the easy stuff, even though deleting the section is a possibility. You need to be able to gain confidence as a self-editor. Delete “ly” and excess modifiers, change your dialogue tags to “said” or a beat of action, or use concrete sensory detail to “show, don’t tell.” Substitute action verbs for passive voice and get rid of a lot of the “ings.” These simple self-edits will tighten your writing and leave you (I hope) believing you can do this.
  • For “Big Picture” suggestions, use this copy to play around. Add in deeper character work, shuffle your scenes or paragraphs to create tension or strengthen theme on this copy. You can save as “Experimental” or some other file name to keep from confusion. Ask yourself how the critique group interpreted your piece compared to how you wrote it. Did your colleagues understand the way you intended?
  • Sort out the Suggestions from the Rewrites. Some crit partners cross a line where instead of giving you suggestions to take or leave, they want to rewrite your story. I don’t think it’s healthy to do too much rewriting for another writer. If you get back your copy and it’s too far from what you envisioned because of excessive revisions, go back to your original and look for ways to say or dramatize with more CSD, more clarity or a stronger thesis.

Remember, it’s your work. You bear ultimate responsibility for what you write or rewrite. When you receive a critique, take what you can use. The rest you can lose.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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