Everyone has the own process for handling critique feedback and diving into revisions, but when faced with pages of information and comments, sometimes it's hard to know where to start.
First thing I do is read them. Sounds crazy, right? But I read them with no expectations. I'm not trying to see if anyone liked the book, I just want to know what they thought. I make no judgments here. If anything pops up that seems totally whacked (and there's always something unexpected), I just let it slide on by.
Once I've read them all, I ask my critiquers any questions I might have. Sometimes I'll need clarification on a point, or someone will say something that really hits me and I'll want them to elaborate. After that, I let the critique sit for a few days.
The sitting is an important aspect. We all have great hopes and dreams for our work, so any negative comment can give us a knee-jerk reaction and the need to justify why we did something. It's not uncommon to think, "They're just missing the point" at this stage. (For the record, they usually aren't)
After a few days, I go back and read the crits again, this time with an eye for what the problems are. I open a new file and take notes on things I agree with and plan to fix. I note any suggestions made I think would work.
Then I look at the comments that seemed to miss the point. I try to understand why the comment was made. Was the problem really what the critiquer said it was, or did this moment not work because I failed somewhere else, and this is when that error becomes clear? This is the hardest type of comment to deal with, because sometimes it's a legitimate comment, and sometimes it really is the critiquer missing the point.
How can you tell the difference?
- If more than one person says the same thing, chances are it's a problem.
- If you can see what the person is talking about, but disagree, chances are it's a problem, but not the problem they think it is. Perhaps it wasn't set it up correctly and they expected something else by the time they got to this moment.
- If you can't figure out what they're talking about, and asking yields no further understanding, it could just them.
- If you understand what they're talking about, but it's something that is addressed in the story, go back and tweak it a little to make sure it's clear. It might be just them, but it's possible others could benefit from a little more clarification there.
Once all the big changes are marked down and I know the macro level issues, I move on to the line edits. I go critique by critique and fix anything that's easy (a typo, an odd word choice, an extra clause). All the other comments I cut and paste into my main document in the same places the critiquer made them.
Finally, I start reading on page one, making the changes as I come to them. If I encounter anything that requires more thought or planning, I highlight it in yellow and move on. My goal here is to make as many edits as I can without getting bogged down. After the easy stuff is done, I can focus on the harder rewrites and make sure they fit any new story lines.
After all that is finished, I let the manuscript sit for at least a week or two (a month is great if you can do it). Then I go back and read it yet again. I fix anything that pops out at me. I keep doing this until the manuscript is clean. I consider it clean when I tweak a word here and there as I read, but nothing more.
If the changes were major, I'll ask for more critiques and go through the whole process again. It takes work, but I've found it to be an effective way to revise.
How do you incorporate critique feedback? What's your revisions plan?
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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